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§47.8 Common Knowledge Exception

The Case : Baldwin v. Knight, 569 S.W.2d 450 (Tenn. 1978).

The Basic Facts : Plaintiff sought treatment at an emergency room after a piece of wire which was struck by the lawnmower he had been operating struck him in the leg and became embedded. The Defendant emergency room physician failed to discover the wire in Plaintiff's leg. Plaintiff sued an emergency room physician after the physician failed to discover a wire embedded in his leg as a result of a lawnmower accident.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Where the act of alleged malpractice lies within the common knowledge of a layman, expert testimony is not required. Bowman v. Henard, [547 S.W.2d 527 (Tenn. 1977)]; Rural Educ. Ass'n. v. Bush, [298 S.W.2d 761 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1956)]; Vaughn v. Shelton, [514 S.W.2d 870 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1974)] where it was held that expert medical evidence was not required to prove that if both of the fallopian tubes are severed and closed, the patient would thereby be rendered immune from pregnancy." 569 S.W.2d at 456.
  • "Floyd v. Walls, [168 S.W.2d 602 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1942)]; and Gresham v. Ford, [241 S.W.2d 408 (Tenn. 1951)], are relied upon by defendants as requiring expert testimony to determine whether or not a doctor's decision not to x-ray constitutes malpractice. Those cases are inapposite for the reason that this case does not involve the alleged negligent act of failure to x-ray. The alleged negligent act here was the failure to ascertain, from history and inspection, that the wound was caused by a flying object and possibly contained a foreign body. All the experts agreed that if the true facts had been ascertained, x-rays were indicated and would have been taken." Id.

Other Sources of Note: Runnells v. Rogers, 596 S.W.2d 87 (Tenn. 1980) (holding that in factual circumstances very similar to Baldwin it was within common knowledge that wire embedded in plaintiff's foot should have been taken out by the physician and that expert testimony was not necessary for Plaintiff to prevail); Seavers v. Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, 9 S.W.3d 86, 92 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999) (court references several cases where the common knowledge exception was applied).

Recent Cases:  Deuel v. The Surgical Clinic, PLLC, No. M2009-01551-COA-R3- CV, 2010 WL 3237297 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 16, 2010) (holding that a claim against a surgeon for a retained sponge is subject to the common knowledge exception, even if the surgeon submits expert testimony that the surgeon complied with the standard of care).

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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