NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Tennessee ruled in a Dec. 20 opinion that an agreement signed by a rehabilitation center patient who fell getting into a van operated by a third-party medical transportation company does not prohibit the patient from suing the transport company.
“In sum, after considering the totality of the circumstances and weighing the inequality in the relative bargaining power of the parties, the lack of clarity of the exculpatory language, and the public policy and public interest implications, we hold that, as a matter of law, the exculpatory provisions in the agreement signed by Mr. (Frederick) Copeland are unenforceable and do not bar his claim against MedicOne (Medical Response Delta Region Inc.),” Justice Sharon Lee wrote in her opinion.
In its opinion, the high court vacated the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling and sent the case back to the Shelby County Circuit Court to be heard.
According to the Tennessee Supreme Court opinion, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital North Memphis patient Copeland was required by the driver of a MedicOne Medical Response Delta Region Inc. transport vehicle “to sign an agreement that, in part, released the company from any liability” before the driver would take Copeland to his doctor’s appointment.
Despite signing the agreement, Copeland sued MedicOne, which argued that the case should be dismissed because the agreement absolves the transportation company from blame in such an incident.
A trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed with MedicOne’s argument that “the exculpatory provisions were enforceable,” according to the Supreme Court opinion.
However, Lee’s opinion found that “to determine the enforceability of an exculpatory agreement, a court should consider the totality of the circumstances and weigh these non-exclusive factors: (1) relative bargaining power of the parties; (2) clarity of the exculpatory language, which should be clear, unambiguous, and unmistakable about what the party who signs the agreement is giving up; and (3) public policy and public interest implications.”
Lee said the Tennessee Supreme Court feels the agreement signed by Copeland is unenforceable because these conditions were not met.