Expert Author Thomas R Greer

An injury that involves negligent medical care and treatment from a doctor or hospital in Tennessee typically falls under the Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act. Tennessee medical malpractice lawsuits must be filed within a specific time period. This time period is known as the statute of limitations. If a lawsuit is not filed within the statute of limitations, it will be forever barred.

Calculating the appropriate deadline for timely filing a medical malpractice case can be complex and there are procedural hurdles that must be strictly followed before a claim can even be filed in court. If you think you or a loved one may be the victim of medical malpractice in Tennessee, the best thing to do is contact an experienced Tennessee medical malpractice attorney immediately. This article is meant only to provide a basic overview of the law.

Statute of Limitations in General

All civil causes of actions in Tennessee, such as a breach of contract, auto accident case, or product defect lawsuit, must be filed within a specific period of time or else it can never be filed. If a lawsuit is filed outside of the statute of limitation, then the action will be subject to dismissal by the courts. In medical malpractice cases in Tennessee, the statute of limitations is generally one year from the date of injury. However, there are additional procedural hurdles that must be followed before filing a malpractice claim in Tennessee.

Provide Written Notice of the Claim within One Year

Tennessee law requires that the medical providers be given 60 days advanced written notice before a lawsuit can be filed. The pre-suit notice letter must be sent within the statute of limitations, which is typically one year from the date that the claimant knew, or should have known, about the malpractice. Moreover, the written notice must meet specific requirements. For instance, the notice must provide the following information about the claim:

  • Patient's full name
  • Patient's date of birth
  • Name and address of patient's attorney, if applicable
  • A list of all other healthcare providers being sent notice
  • A HIPAA compliant medical authorization that allows the healthcare provider to obtain complete medical records from all other providers

If the person sending the letter is someone other than the patient, the notice must include:

  • Claimant's name
  • Claimant's address
  • Claimant's relationship to patient

Pre-suit notice can be sent by personal delivery or by certified mail. If notice is provided by certified mail, it must be sent to two separate addresses. For individual healthcare providers, it must be sent to the address listed for the provider on the Tennessee Department of Health website and the providers current business address. For corporate healthcare providers, notice must be sent to the agent for service of process and the providers current business address.

The 60 Day Waiting Period and the 120 Day Statute of Limitation Extension

After written notice is sent, the claimant must wait 60 days before filing a lawsuit. If a lawsuit is filed before the 60 day waiting period expires, it will likely be dismissed by the trial court. If the pre-suit notice letter is written and sent correctly, the statute of limitations is extended for 120 days. For example, if an injury occurred on January 1, 2013, then pre-suit notice must be sent on or before December 31, 2013. If the pre-suit notice letter is sent on December 31, 2013, then the claimant must wait 60 days until March 1, 2014 to file the lawsuit. Further, the lawsuit must be filed no later than May 1, 2014 (i.e. 120 days after the one year statute of limitations).

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

The safest way to proceed in a medical malpractice action is to operate under the assumption that the statute of limitations is one year from the date of injury. If circumstances do not allow for this, however, there may be exceptions that you can rely upon.

For example, in cases where the injury is not discovered at the time the negligent medical act is performed, the statute of limitations will be calculated as one year from the date the person knows, or should have known, about the error. This is known as the "discovery rule." For instance, if a doctor performing back surgery operates on the wrong disc and you do not learn about the error for three months after the operation, the statute of limitations may be extended for three months.

Another exception to the general one year statute of limitations is when the injured patient is a minor child or is mentally incapacitated. Under these circumstances, the statute of limitations can be extended until one year after the minor reaches the age of majority or one year from the date the mentally incapacitated person becomes competent.

However, both of these exceptions are subject to the statute of repose, which acts as an absolute deadline for the filing of a medical malpractice case.

The Statute of Repose

The statute of repose for medical malpractice cases in Tennessee is three years from the date of injury. The statute of repose bars lawsuits filed after three years no matter when the injury is discovered and it even eliminates claims for minor children and mentally incapacitated adults. For example, in the case of a child injured during labor and delivery, the parents or guardian of the child have until the child's third birthday to send written notice to the potential defendants and then must file a lawsuit on behalf of the child within 120 days therefore. If these steps are not followed, the child's claim will be forever barred.

Exceptions to the Statute of Repose

There are, however, two exceptions to Tennessee's medical malpractice statute of repose. First, the statute of repose does not apply if the negligent medical provider fraudulently concealed his or her wrongdoing. Second, the statute of repose does not apply to cases in which an instrument is left inside a patient and the patient is unaware. Under these circumstances, the three year statute of repose does not apply and the medical malpractice lawsuit can be initiated, beginning with the written notice provision set forth above, within one year from the date of discovery of the injury.

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