Analysis: The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of Jeffrey Smith and Brenda K. Smith v. Methodist Hospitals of Memphis, et al, No. W2011-00054-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 3777139 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012) discussed the elements for a tortious interference with contract claim in Tennessee. In this case the Tennessee Court of Appeals dealt with a situation where a plaintiff filed a medical malpractice claim against a hospital. During the litigation, the hospital allegedly contacted the employer of plaintiff’s expert nurse witness to try to put pressure on the nurse to not serve as an expert witness in the case. This nurse had previously submitted an affidavit on behalf of the plaintiff in the medical malpractice cause of action. A dispute therefore arose concerning whether the contact by the hospital of the expert nurse’s employer caused a breach of the contract between the expert nurse and the plaintiff when the nurse withdrew as an expert.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals discussed the requirements for a tortious interference with a contract claim in Tennessee. The Court stated that “in order to establish a cause of action for unlawful inducement of a breach of contract, a plaintiff must prove that there was a legal contract, of which the wrongdoer was aware, that the wrongdoer maliciously intended to induce a breach, and that as a proximate result of the wrongdoer's actions, a breach occurred that resulted in damages to the plaintiff.” Smith at Footnote 8 (citing the Tennessee Supreme Court decision of Quality Auto Parts Co., Inc. v. Bluff City Buick Co., Inc., 876 S.W.2d 818, 822–23 (Tenn.1994)). The hospital submitted undisputed evidence that the nurse was not influenced by the hospital’s call and instead the nurse voluntarily withdrew from the case as an expert. As a result the appellate court found that “we conclude that the evidence and the inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence permit but one conclusion, that Nurse Hudspeth voluntarily withdrew from serving as an expert in March 2003, and not as a result of any action on the part of the Hospital.” Smith at 9.