We were lead counsel for National Healthcare Corporation (NHC) in September 2003 on an emergency basis immediately after a tragic fire at a nursing home facility owned by NHC. More than a dozen residents were killed and many more were injured. In the subsequent litigation, plaintiffs alleged the company was liable for both compensatory and punitive damages for failing to install sprinklers and for other grounds. Thirty of the 32 suits were settled within a year of the event. The remaining two claims were later settled in mediation after we obtained summary judgment on plaintiffs’ claims for punitive damages on the sprinkler issue.
The fire and its aftermath received significant national and international media attention. Ultimately, the local newspaper, The Tennessean, intervened in this case to challenge a series of protective orders entered by the trial court which restricted the disclosure of unfiled discovery materials and ordered that any discovery materials filed with the court be filed under seal.
In June 2009, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in NHC’s favor in a challenge by The Tennessean to the procedures employed by the trial court in balancing the parties’ rights to a fair trial against The Tennessean’s requests for information. The Court of Appeals wrote an opinion ratifying the trial court’s procedures, which likely will be cited as the authoritative opinion on a trial court’s inherent powers to manage mass tort or other high publicity litigation.