Civil Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2023

Dennis Harold Ultsch v. HTI Memorial Hospital Corporation (Health Care Liability Claim)

Style: Dennis Harold Ultsch v. HTI Memorial Hospital Corporation

TSC Docket Number: M2020-00341-SC-R11-CV

Date of TSC Opinion:  July 20, 2023

Opinion of the TSC:    Majority     Concurrence     Dissent

TSC Summary of the Majority Opinion:

“When there is a conflict between the common law and a statute, the provision of the statute must prevail.” Graves v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 148 S.W. 239, 242 (Tenn. 1912). That longstanding rule is the key to resolving this case, which pits a common-law rule governing vicarious liability claims against certain procedural provisions of Tennessee’s Health Care Liability Act. The defendant in this case moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims under the common-law rule. The trial court granted that motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed after concluding that application of the common-law rule would conflict with the Act. We agree that the Act necessarily implies an intent to abrogate the common-law rule in the circumstances of this case and affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision.

Link to Court of Appeals Opinion:

Summary by the Court of Appeals:

Sheila Warren was a patient at TriStar Skyline Medical Center (“Skyline”) from January 7 through January 12, 2018. On the way home from the hospital, Ms. Warren died from acute respiratory failure. Dennis Ultsch, Ms. Warren’s next of kin, filed suit against HTI Memorial Hospital Corporation d/b/a Skyline on May 6, 2019, asserting claims for health care liability. The complaint alleges that Skyline “is both directly and vicariously liable to plaintiff under the theory of respondeat superior for the acts or omissions of its employees and/or agents.” Attached to the complaint are (1) an affidavit certifying that the 04/01/2021 – 2 – plaintiff sent to Skyline via certified mail on December 21, 2018, the notice required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121 and (2) a copy of the notice letter.

Skyline filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, citing Abshure v. Methodist Healthcare-Memphis Hospitals, 325 S.W.3d 98, 106, 112 (Tenn. 2010), for the proposition that a principal cannot be held vicariously liable for the actions of alleged employees or agents when the plaintiff’s claims against those agents were procedurally barred (in this case, by the statute of limitations) when the suit was filed. On November 12, 2019, the trial court entered an order granting Skyline’s motion to dismiss with respect to vicarious liability claims but allowing the plaintiff thirty days to amend the complaint to properly plead direct negligence claims against Skyline. The plaintiff filed a motion for an interlocutory appeal of the November 12, 2019 order and a “motion to reconsider.” The trial court denied the latter, which it treated as a motion to alter or amend, and granted the motion for an interlocutory appeal. This court granted the plaintiff’s application for permission to appeal pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 9.

Permission to Appeal Granted: September 22, 2021

Appellants’ Briefs Filed: October 21, 2021

Appellees’ Briefs Filed: November 22, 2021

Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed:

Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed:

Amicus Briefs Permitted:  None

Oral Argument Date: April 6, 2022

Link to Oral Argument Video:


Cases Pending Before The Tennessee Supreme Court Copyright © 2021 by BirdDog Law, LLC (No copyright claimed as to government works or as to briefs written by others.). All Rights Reserved.