Tennessee Supreme Court sides with widow in wrongful death case, remands case to trial court

By Dee Thompson | Jul 14, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) – The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a medical authorization sent pre-lawsuit doesn’t have to be Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant to be valid.

The suit states that Deborah Bray sent a pre-suit notice to the psychiatrist who treated her husband, and it included a medical authorization. After suit was filed, the doctor moved to dismiss because of the authorization that had been sent with the pre-suit communication, saying it wasn’t compliant with the HIPAA. 

The lower courts granted the dismissal, but the Supreme Court of Tennessee on July 5 overturned those rulings.

The case was filed as Deborah Bray v. Radwan R. Khuri, M.D. and was appealed from the Circuit Court of Shelby County and the Tennessee Court of Appeals. 

In March 2003 Deborah Bray’s husband, Nigel Bray, committed suicide. He had been hospitalized for a week prior to that at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis and was treated there by Khuri. 

In March 2004, Deborah Bray filed suit against Khuri alleging negligence in her husband’s treatment. The case was voluntarily dismissed after pretrial discovery was conducted.

Seven years later, the case was revived. Deborah Bray sent Khuri a pre-suit notice in May 2011, as required by law. The letter stated that the psychiatric treatment rendered to Nigel Bray resulted in his death at St. Francis Hospital. Deborah Bray signed the notice, which the letter noted was only sent to Khuri.

Khuri was the only health care provider who received the notice, and he argued that since it wasn’t HIPAA-compliant, he couldn’t discuss the case with counsel. Deborah Bray argued that the fact Khuri was the only health care provider meant no authorization was actually required under section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E)

The trial court agreed with Khuri and dismissed the case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Deborah Bray appealed. 

Justice Sharon G. Lee concluded “After careful review, we hold that a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization was not required under section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) because Mrs. Bray’s pre-suit notice was sent to a single provider. The judgments of the trial court and the court of appeals are reversed, and this case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.”

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