Mercer v. Vanderbilt University
134 S.W.3d 121 (Tenn. 2004)

  • Qualls got into a car accident because he was driving drunk. He was taken to Vanderbilt Hospital. While there, he was given a paralytic drug in preparation for a CT scan. Then was connected to a ventilator since he wasn’t able to breath on his own. Nobody bothered to check how much air was left in the ventilator tanks. They ran out, and Qualls suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen.
  • Qualls sister, Mercer sued Vanderbilt for medical malpractice.
    • Mercer argued that the ventilator caused Qualls injuries.
    • Vanderbilt argued that it was alcohol poisoning and/or the car accident.
      • Vanderbilt admitted that the nurse violated the standard of care by not refilling the tanks.
  • The Trial Court found in favor of Mercer.
    • The jury awarded damages of $7.3M, but apportioned only 70% of the fault to Vanderbilt and 30% to Qualls, so Mercer only gets $5.1M.
  • The Trial judge awarded Mercer the full $7.3M. Vanderbilt appealed.
  • The Appellate Court overturned the judge’s decision to award 100% damages to Mercer. Mercer appealed.
  • The Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the Appellate Court and affirmed the Trial Court’s decision to award 100% damages.
    • The Tennessee Supreme Court felt that Qualls negligence cannot be considered.
      • Most jurisdictions (and the Restatement of Torts) have held that a patient’s negligence that provides occasion for medical treatment may not be compared to that of a negligent physician.
      • Patients that negligently injure themselves are nevertheless entitled to subsequent non-negligent medical treatment.