Bain v. Wells

Citation936 S.W.2d 618,65 USLW 2510
PartiesJerry BAIN and wife Sue Bain, Plaintiffs/Appellees, v. Dr. Wayne WELLS, Defendant, and National Medical Enterprises, Inc., New Beginnings Center, University Medical Center and National Recovery Centers of America, Defendants/Appellants.
Decision Date13 January 1997
CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee

Henry Clay Barry, Lebanon, for Plaintiffs/Appellees.

William C. Moody, Moody, Whitfield & Castellarin, Nashville, for Defendants/Appellants.



Defendants, 1 National Medical Enterprises, Inc., New Beginnings Center, University Medical Center and National Recovery Centers of America, sought and obtained permission to appeal from the Court of Appeals' affirmance of the trial court's denial of their request for summary judgment. We are asked to determine whether a hospital's policy of placing patients known to be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV or the AIDS virus) in the same room with patients who are not infected with the virus without warning or obtaining the consent of the non-infected patients constitutes outrageous conduct or negligent infliction of emotional distress.

We have determined under the proof in the record that the hospital's nonsegregation placement policy is in accordance with current health care standards; therefore, as a matter of law, it does not constitute outrageous conduct. In addition, we conclude that the claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress must fail as a matter of law because plaintiff, Jerry Bain, has failed to offer evidence that he actually was exposed to HIV as a result of the hospital's placement policy. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court's denial of summary judgment is reversed and summary judgment is entered in favor of the defendants.


In September of 1991, Jerry Bain was admitted as a patient in the New Beginnings Center, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center on the property of University Medical Center 2 in Lebanon, Tennessee. Without his knowledge or consent, Bain was placed in a room with another patient who had tested positive for HIV. Bain occupied the same room with the HIV-infected patient for approximately eight days. During that time, they shared a bathroom and Bain had an open cut on his buttock. Additionally, on one occasion, Bain mistakenly used his roommate's disposable razor. Following that incident, Bain's roommate told Bain that he was infected with HIV. Bain left the hospital before the completion of his scheduled treatment program, but later returned, completed the program, and was discharged on October 18, 1991.

Thereafter, Bain and his wife sued the defendants alleging that the hospital's policy of placing HIV-infected patients in the same room with patients not infected with the virus, without warning or obtaining the prior consent of the non-infected patients, constitutes outrageous conduct and a deviation from the standard of care in the community. As a result of the defendants' outrageous conduct and negligence, Bain alleged that he had suffered great worry and emotional distress because he fears he may possibly have become infected with the AIDS virus and in turn, may infect his wife and child. Bain also alleged that he had incurred monetary damages in being tested for HIV and in being treated for emotional distress. Finally, Bain and his wife alleged that their normal marital life had been "compromised," as a result of the defendants' outrageous conduct and negligence and each claimed loss of consortium.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in which they asserted that the policy of housing patients infected with HIV together with noninfected patients was consistent with acceptable medical practice and, therefore, could not constitute outrageous conduct or negligence. In addition, the defendants maintained that Bain had failed to allege actual exposure to the AIDS virus through a medically recognized method of transmission. In support of their motion, defendants submitted the affidavit and deposition of Dr. William Schaffner, II, M.D., chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine and professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Schaffner is also a member of the Technical Panel on Infections within Hospitals of the American Hospital Association which publishes recommendations for hospitals entitled "Management of HIV Infection in the Hospital."

Dr. Schaffner stated that, in his opinion, the hospital did not deviate from accepted medical practice by placing HIV-infected patients in rooms with patients not infected with the virus. As a basis for his opinion, Dr. Schaffner cited the recommendations of the Technical Panel on Infections within Hospitals of the American Hospital Association, which suggests segregation of patients infected with HIV in the following three limited circumstances: (1) the patient has other airborne transmissible infections; (2) the patient is violent; or (3) the patient is so ill with AIDS that he or she is unable to control body fluids. Dr. Schaffner also stated that "information about the HIV status of a patient should be available only to individuals directly involved in the patient's care." Revealing to Bain his roommate's HIV-infected status, in Dr. Schaffner's view, would have violated the recognized standard of care. In addition, defendants argued that they were prohibited by federal law from disclosing the roommate's medical condition to anyone other than qualified personnel.

As to Bain's claim that the hospital's negligence caused him to suffer severe emotional distress, Dr. Schaffner stated that based upon his review of Jerry Bain's medical records at the University Medical Center, it was his opinion that "Jerry Bain did not suffer exposure to HIV and, a person experiencing circumstances set out in the materials I have reviewed would have no reasonable fear of contracting HIV." According to Dr. Schaffner, the modes of transmission of the AIDS virus fall into three broad categories, sexual transmission, blood transmission, and transmission from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. Dr. Schaffner stated that a person cannot contract the AIDS virus by sharing a toilet seat or a disposable razor with an HIV-infected person. Even assuming a medically viable mode of transmission, however, Dr. Schaffner said that 99 percent of people infected with HIV test positive for the virus within three months of infection, and "virtually always" within six months.

In response to the motion for summary judgment, Bain submitted an affidavit from the administrator of Carthage General Hospital in Carthage, Tennessee. While stating that Carthage General places patients with life threatening contagious disorders in private rooms, the administrator conceded that "HIV is not specifically defined in our policy as one of these disorders."

Bain also submitted an affidavit. He said that the defendants never informed him that his roommate was HIV positive and advised his roommate to not disclose that fact. Bain said that he was given neither verbal nor written warnings with respect to appropriate precautionary measures. During the course of shaving, Bain said he normally cuts or scapes himself several times and has suffered emotional distress since discovering that he mistakenly used his roommate's razor. Bain's affidavit contained no statement, however, as to whether the razor had blood on it when he began shaving or whether he actually cut or scraped himself the day he mistakenly used the razor. Nonetheless, Bain said that he suffers emotional distress because he fears that he might possibly be infected with the "deadly disorder and that I might have, in turn, infected my wife and child." Bain admitted that as of March 1, 1994, two and one-half years after his hospitalization, he had undergone several HIV tests, all of which had been negative.

Based on the record summarized above, the trial court denied the defendants summary judgment, but granted them permission to seek an interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals granted the interlocutory appeal and affirmed the trial court's denial, concluding that while the defendants' room assignment policy did not constitute a deviation from accepted medical standards, summary judgment was not appropriate on Bain's outrageous conduct claim relating to the defendants' failure to inform Bain about his roommate's HIV positive status, since the "[d]efendants have offered no evidence that this was not wrongful."

As to Bain's claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the Court of Appeals found that the defendants had proven by uncontradicted and unequivocal evidence that Bain was not exposed to HIV by his mere placement in a room with an HIV-infected roommate. However, the Court of Appeals concluded the defendants had "failed to carry their burden of proving by uncontradicted and unequivocal evidence that Mr. Bain was not exposed to the HIV virus by use of the razor or toilet facilities."

Thereafter, we granted the defendants permission to appeal and now, for the reasons explained below, reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court's denial of summary judgment.


The standards governing an appellate court's review of a motion for summary judgment are well settled. Since our inquiry involves purely a question of law, no presumption of correctness attaches to the lower courts' judgment, and our task is confined to reviewing the record to determine whether the requirements of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56 have been met. Cowden v. Sovran Bank/Central South, 816 S.W.2d 741, 744 (Tenn.1991). Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.03 provides that summary judgment is appropriate where: (1) there is no genuine issue with regard to the material facts relevant to the claim or defense contained in the motion, Byrd v. Hall, 847...

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