Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act Limitations Extension Did Not Apply in Negligence Case Against County Hospital Under Government Tort Liability Act

A boy suffering from abdominal discomfort was admitted to a county hospital. Eleven days later the boy died. The boy’s parents sued the county hospital for medical malpractice alleging that its nurses’ negligence caused their son to suffer a severe anoxic brain injury, aspiration pneumonia, sepsis, and cerebral edema.


The county hospital filed a motion to dismiss in which they asserted that the complaint was filed outside the one-year statute of limitations of the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). The parents responded that their complaint was timely filed because the 120-day statute of limitations extension under the Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), which applied as long as pre-suit notice was provided to the potential defendants 60 days before the filing of the complaint, extended the GTLA statute of limitations 120 days with the filing of the pre-suit notice. The Circuit Court denied the hospital's motion to dismiss, which the Court of Appeals affirmed.


The Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed and remanded holding that the MMA did not extend the statute of limitations by an additional 120 days in cases governed by the GTLA. As a governmental entity, the county hospital was subject to the provisions of the GTLA. The court noted that in previous cases it had held that if statutes of general application that conflict with a provision of the GTLA are sought to be applied to GTLA cases, the intent of the General Assembly must be expressly stated in the text of the statutory provision.


The court reasoned that the MMA's statute of limitations extension was inconsistent with the statute of limitations provided by the GTLA. In order for the provision to apply, the MMA must expressly state the legislature's intent to apply the provision to cases brought under the GTLA. By choosing not to use express language applying the MMA's statute of limitations extension to cases governed by the GTLA, the legislature did not intend to apply the 120-day extension to the GTLA statute of limitations.


 See: Cunningham v. Williamson Cnty. Hosp. Dist., 2013 WL 1912611 (Tenn., May 9, 2013) (not designated for publication).