Supreme Court Rules That a Medical Authorization is Not Required When a Pre-Suit Notice is Sent to a Single Healthcare Provider

July 5, 2017

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a prospective plaintiff who provides pre-suit notice of a healthcare liability claim to a single healthcare provider is not required to provide a medical authorization compliant with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as HIPAA.

In May 2011, Deborah Bray sent a pre-suit notice letter to Dr. Radwan R. Khuri advising him of a potential claim for the wrongful death of her husband while in Dr. Khuri’s care. The notice, which included a medical authorization signed by Mrs. Bray, stated that Dr. Khuri was the only healthcare provider receiving the notice.

In September 2011, Mrs. Bray filed a healthcare liability suit against Dr. Khuri. Dr. Khuri moved to dismiss the case, asserting that the medical authorization was incomplete and not in compliance with HIPAA. According to Dr. Khuri, he was unable to use the medical records to consult with counsel and evaluate the merits of the claim. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Mrs. Bray’s request to review the case. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and the trial court. The Court held that Tennessee law does not require a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization when a plaintiff sends a pre‑suit notice of a healthcare liability claim to a single healthcare provider. The statutory purpose of the authorization is to allow a potential defendant to obtain the prospective plaintiff’s medical records from any other healthcare provider also given notice and identified as a potential defendant in the pre-suit notice. Under HIPAA, Dr. Khuri was able to share the protected medical information with counsel to evaluate Mrs. Bray’s claim without a medical authorization.

To read the unanimous opinion in Bray v. Khuri, authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.