Claire A. Sumner
Partner / Atlanta
Claire Sumner is a partner in the Firm’s Atlanta office. Her practice focuses primarily on health care and general liability litigation. Claire specializes in cases involving medical and chiropractic malpractice as well as automobile and premise liability. In addition to a robust motions practice, Claire has both State and Federal court trial experience and has appeared before the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Claire received her J.D., cum laude, in 2012 from the University of Tennessee College of Law, where she graduated with a concentration in advocacy and dispute resolution. While in law school, Claire was a member of the College’s Moot Court Board and interned with The Honorable Julia Smith Gibbons of the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Claire completed her undergraduate studies in 2009 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in English and minoring in religious studies.
Claire Sumner and Jason Deere Obtain Dismissal for Physical Therapy Practice
August 28, 2019
Claire Sumner and Jason Deere obtained dismissal in a Henry County lawsuit for a physical therapy practice. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging she was injured during a therapy session, causing damage to her knee that required surgery. Plaintiff failed to attach an expert affidavit to her Complaint. Defense counsel filed a motion to dismiss, pursuant to O.C.G.A. 9-11-9.1, arguing that Plaintiff’s claim amounted to professional negligence, which claims require the filing of an expert affidavit contemporaneous with the Complaint. The Court heard oral argument, where Plaintiff argued that her suit sounded in simple negligence and not malpractice. The Court did not agree with Plaintiff and dismissed her Complaint.
For informational purposes only. Past success does not indicate the likelihood of success in future cases.
Defense Verdict Obtained in Nuisance Case Against Municipal Water Authority
July 27, 2018
Dave Root and Claire Sumner obtained a defense verdict in a nuisance case filed against a municipal water authority. Plaintiffs, a nationally-known appliance retailer and distributor, alleged that the water authority designed, operated, and maintained a nuisance in the county water system, which system was known to have high and fluctuating pressures. Plaintiffs alleged these pressures led to the generation of a water hammer that ultimately caused the failure of a sprinkler head in their distribution warehouse, leading to over $1.4 million in damages. The defense argued that Plaintiffs had failed to prove the failure was caused by water hammer and/or demonstrate any action by the Authority supposedly leading to the generation of a water hammer. The case was tried before a Jackson County, Georgia jury, who returned a verdict in favor of the Defendant.
For informational purposes only. Past success does not indicate the likelihood of success in future cases.
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner Obtain Summary Judgment for Client in Failure to Supervise Action
July 3, 2018
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner obtained summary judgment on behalf of their client, an early learning and daycare center, in a negligent supervision case pending in the State Court of Gwinnett County. Plaintiffs, the parents of an injured minor, alleged that their daughter was seriously and permanently injured while at recess at daycare. However, Plaintiffs, purportedly relying on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor, pointed to no evidence of any negligent act or omission on the part of the defendant. The defense moved for summary judgment on these grounds, and the Court agreed.
For informational purposes only. Past success does not indicate the likelihood of success in future cases.
Court of Appeals Affirms Grant of Summary Judgment to Home Hemodialysis Provider in Malpractice Case
March 12, 2018
The Court of Appeals affirmed a Gwinnett County trial court’s grant of summary judgment to a dialysis provider. Doug Smith and Claire Sumner represented the provider, who rendered home hemodialysis to a patient 2008. The 2010 lawsuit culminated in a 2016 summary judgment filing. The trial court determined that Plaintiff, the patient’s daughter, failed to establish both causation and damages in her malpractice case and dismissed the same in its entirety against the provider and other defendants. On appeal, Plaintiff/Appellant argued that her nephrologist expert had testified, via affidavit, that the provider’s care left the patient in a “further weakened state,” which testimony was sufficient evidence of causation to warrant denial of summary judgment. In response, Doug and Claire argued that this opinion, pursuant merely to the pleading standards of O.C.G.A. section 9-11-9.1, was contrary to the expert’s deposition testimony, which took precedence pursuant to O.C.G.A. section 9-11-56. In a succinct opinion, the Court of Appeals agreed, affirming the trial court’s decision and finding that the issues were controlled “adversely to the appellant for the reasons and authority given in the appellees’ brief.”
Defense Verdict in Chiropractic Malpractice Case
October 17, 2017
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner obtained a defense verdict in a chiropractic malpractice case in Cobb County, Georgia. Plaintiff alleged she suffered a cervical spine injury following multiple chiropractic adjustments in 2012 and sought to hold multiple chiropractors liable for professional negligence and via respondeat superior. She sought pain and suffering damages in the amount of $1 million. The defense argued that Plaintiff failed to prove causation, and after less than an hour of deliberation, the jury agreed and returned a defense verdict.
Dismissal Obtained for Practitioner and Professional Corporation in Malpractice Case
September 8, 2017
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner obtained dismissal for a chiropractor and his practice in a malpractice case filed in the State Court of Muscogee County where Plaintiff alleged she suffered a spinal cord injury requiring hospitalization with lasting paralysis following two instances of negligent care and treatment by the chiropractor. After years of litigation, Doug and Claire filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiff had failed to provide sufficient causation testimony linking the alleged negligence to Plaintiff's injury.
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner Obtained Summary Judgment for Dialysis Provider in Medical Malpractice Case
February 28, 2017
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner obtained summary judgment in Gwinnett County in favor of a dialysis provider that provided home hemodialysis to a patient. The Plaintiff in the case argued that her deceased mother received substandard dialysis care from the provider, among other defendants. The Plaintiff also alleged claims of fraud, misrepresentation, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, failure to warn, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, civil conspiracy, and punitive damages against the provider. In a two-part hearing, Doug and Claire argued that Plaintiff’s expert had failed to establish proximate causation for the medical negligence claims and that the remaining claims lacked evidence of actual damages. The Court agreed and granted the provider’s motion.
Summary Judgment for Chiropractor in Malpractice Case
October 16, 2016
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner obtained summary judgment in Gwinnett County on behalf of a chiropractor, who employed a massage therapist. The Plaintiff argued that the therapist had provided negligent care and treatment and that the chiropractor had negligently trained and supervised her. Doug and Claire argued that the Plaintiff failed to prove that the chiropractor knew or should have known that the therapist engaged in prior acts relevant to the Plaintiff’s claimed injuries. The Court agreed that there was an absence of evidence sufficient to show that the therapist had a tendency to engage in the allegedly negligent behavior and granted the chiropractor’s motion.
Dismissal Obtained for Chiropractor in Malpractice Case
December 21, 2015
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner obtained dismissal for a chiropractor in a malpractice case filed in the State Court of Effingham County where the Plaintiff alleged he had suffered a disc herniation requiring emergency surgery following negligent care and treatment by the chiropractor. After extensive discovery efforts, Doug and Claire filed a motion to dismiss based on Plaintiff’s egregious discovery abuses. Agreeing with Doug and Claire that the Plaintiff’s repeated discovery abuses warranted sanctioning, the Court granted the chiropractor’s motion and dismissed the case with prejudice.
Settlement Enforced Following Dispute After Mediation
November 24, 2015
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner secured a settlement at mediation on behalf of a driver in an automobile collision. The Plaintiff failed to appear at the mediation, but opposing counsel advised that she was in touch with the Plaintiff and had obtained settlement authority to proceed; the case settled. Thereafter, the Plaintiff refused to sign the settlement paperwork. Doug and Claire filed a motion to enforce in the Superior Court of Jackson County, Georgia, arguing that the settlement was valid. The Court not only agreed but also awarded attorney’s fees cast against the Plaintiff.
Defense Win in Challenging Venue
May 29, 2015
Eric Frisch and Claire Sumner obtained a defense verdict in DeKalb County State Court in a wrongful death case against a physician and his hospital employer. Plaintiff alleged that the physician failed to diagnose and treat post-operative pneumonia in a timely manner. The defense argued that the patient developed acute respiratory distress syndrome and pulmonary edema, which were properly treated.
Summary Judgment Obtained for Insured in Disputed Liability, Multi-Vehicle Collision
February 27, 2014
Doug Smith and Claire Sumner successfully defended an insured automobile owner in the State Court of Cobb County. The case arose from a multi-vehicle collision, causing serious injuries to the plaintiff. Claire Sumner argued that the plaintiff’s negligence outweighed any negligence on the part of the insured driver, thereby insulating the defendant from liability.
Dismissal of Physician and Physician Practice Group in Medical Malpractice Case
October 15, 2013
Eric Frisch and Claire Sumner successfully obtained dismissal of a physician and her practice group in a medical malpractice action. Claire Sumner argued the motion in the Superior Court of Catoosa County. The physician was accused of delaying the diagnosis of a vascular lesion, which lead to an amputation.
Copeland Stair’s Annual Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Seminar
September 12, 2019
Copeland, Stair, Kingma & Lovell's Annual Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith Seminar was held on Thursday September 12, 2019. Located at the beautiful Atlanta Botanical Gardens, this two-track format addressed the emerging issues that keep you up at night. Some session topics included: the rise in tort litigation, putting together the pieces of the wrongful death case, effective use of recorded statements and the material misrepresentation defense, liability exposure in the age of active shooters and the impact bias has on case evaluation and jury deliberations. For more information on this seminar, please contact Michelle Mattox.
Carlock, Copeland & Stair Hosted Their Annual Insurance Coverage & Bad Faith Seminar
August 24, 2017
Carlock, Copeland & Stair hosted their annual Insurance Coverage & Bad Faith Seminar on August 24 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Presentations and Presenters: Have Traditional Rules Gone Up in Smoke? Impact of Growing Legalization of Medical Marijuana - Dave Root and Abby Grozine. Best Practices for Maintaining Your Claims File - Ryan Wilhelm, Jennifer Guerra, and Claire Sumner. Defending the Institutional Bad Faith Claim - Charlie McDaniel and Kathy Carlsten. New Technology, Old Policies: Are Aging Policies Equipped to Handle the Consumer Technology Boom? - Fred Valz and Melissa Bailey. Apportionment: Has It Gotten Insurers Where They Want To Go? - Charlie McDaniel, Graham Thompson, and Kristen Thompson. Additional Insured Jeopardy - Alex Davis, Laura Paton, Sarah Wetmore, Sally Bright and Nick Stewart. Why the Involvement of a Tractor Trailer Escalates a Case - Gary Lovell. Risk-Averse Insurers and the New Juror: Exploring Possible Links Between Fewer Trials, Millennial Jurors, and Seemingly Bigger Verdicts - Doug Smith and Lee Weatherly. Please contact Michelle Mattox at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like our attorneys to present in-house lunch & learn sessions or webinars.
Carlock Copeland Announces Attorneys Elevated to Partner
January 1, 2019
Carlock, Copeland & Stair is pleased to announce eight attorneys, across three offices have been elevated to partner effective January 1, 2019. We congratulate each of them for this achievement and couldn’t be prouder of the manner in which they have distinguished themselves, both in the courtroom and within the community.
“The class size, location, and diversity of this year’s new partner group demonstrates the emerging talent CCS has worked hard to cultivate throughout the Firm. We are proud to support and elevate the attorneys helping us grow and transition the Firm in the future.”
~Managing Partner, Shannon Sprinkle ~Stephen J. Cohen, of our Atlanta office, received his J.D. from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, his M.P.A. from the University of Georgia and his B.A. from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Prior to practicing law, Steve was a police officer, and then a claims adjuster at a commercial automobile insurer. Both professions afforded him invaluable experience and a unique perspective in his thriving trucking and transportation litigation practice with Carlock Copeland. Alexander E. (Alex) Davis, of Carlock Copeland’s Charleston office, earned his J.D. at the University of South Carolina School of Law and his undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University. Alex has vast experience in complex insurance coverage disputes, construction defects claims and regularly represents clients in a variety of business and commercial tort claims. Alex is accomplished author, having been published in several national and regional magazines and is a participant of SCDTAA’s Emerging Leaders Program. Michael P. (Mike) DiOrio earned his law degree at The Catholic University of America, Columbus Law School, where he was a Moot Court member, and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University. Prior to joining Carlock Copeland, Mike practiced as a criminal prosecutor in a metro Atlanta area District Attorney’s Office. Mike’s practice is focused primarily on medical malpractice defense and general liability litigation out of our Atlanta office. He has been first chair in over 50 jury trials. Mike volunteers his time with several worthy organizations, including serving as a past co-chair of Slyland Trail’s Annual Southern Shindig event. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Morgan, and daughter, Virginia Dare. Abby C. Grozine earned her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Georgia and her J.D. from Mississippi College of Law with honors. Abby focuses her practice in the area of commercial litigation, general liability defense and trucking and transportation litigation, from our Atlanta office. Prior to joining Carlock Copeland, Abby served as a Staff Attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District where she gained valuable research, writing and analytical skills used today in her expanding litigation practice. Jennifer Guerra, in the Atlanta office of Carlock Copeland, focuses her practice on commercial litigation, representing clients in professional liability claims, product liability claims and bad faith/coverage disputes. Jennifer attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she received her B.A. with honors, and then the University of Pennsylvania Law School for her J.D. Prior to practicing in the civil arena, Jennifer clerked with the State Court of DeKalb County where she learned the ropes of complex tort and multi-party litigation. Angela Cirina Kopet opened Carlock Copeland’s Chattanooga, TN office in 2014 and has managed the office since its inception. Angela practices primarily general liability, transportation and insurance coverage litigation, and is licensed in Georgia, Tennessee and Washington D.C. She is heavily involved with the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance (CLM), serving on several committees, the Educational Task Force, and was named The CLM Professional of the Year in the Outside Counsel Category in 2017. She was appointed to the Executive Council for the School of Leadership and remains a faculty member in the School of Casualty within CLM’s Claims College. Angela is Martindale –Hubbell AV Preeminent rated, awarded Top 100 Litigation lawyer in the State of Tennessee, and honored with a Senior Fellowship in the Litigation Counsel of America, a Trial Lawyer Honorary Society where she was inducted into the Order of Juris and Order of Certus for her trial and appellate work. Angela earned her B.A. from Fairfield University, her M.B.A. from Widener University and her J.D. from Delaware Law School. Claire A. Sumner, in our Atlanta office, focuses her practice in health care and general liability defense litigation. Claire has a number of trials under her belt, in both state and federal court, and has appellate experience as well. Claire attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned her undergraduate degree in English and religious studies. She received her J.D. with honors from the University of Tennessee College of Law, where she interned at the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Kristen K. Thompson, in Carlock Copeland’s Charleston office, started her career with the firm in 2012 upon graduating law school. Kristen focuses her practice primarily in medical malpractice and general liability litigation and has impressive experience developing litigation strategies and writing persuasive briefs and motions in defense of her clients. Kristen is the current Vice President of the Susan G. Komen Lowcountry Affiliate's Board of Directors and a former Roper St. Francis Foundation Fellow.
Publications and Presentations
The Rising Opioid Crisis: Liability, Coverage, and the Ethics In Between – Presentation at Carlock Copeland’s Annual Insurance Coverage Seminar
August 23, 2018
The Rising Opioid Crisis: Liability, Coverage, and the Ethics In, the interesting cross-over closing session of Carlock Copeland's Annual Insurance Coverage Seminar examines the origins of and the potential expanse of litigation arising out of the opioid crises; but, this session also addresses the multitude of coverage issues beginning to arise and the ethical dilemmas created by potential conflicts created by the crisis – including issues related to privacy concerns. Presenters/Co-Authors: David Root, Claire Sumner, Mike DiOrio, and Bradley Wood. For more information on this presentation, please contact Michelle Mattox at email@example.com.
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Permits Introduction of Evidence of Litigation Funding – Health Law and Regulation Update Blog Post by Claire Sumner
February 19, 2018
Recent Health Law and Regulation Blog Post by Claire Sumner. In a much anticipated decision, the 11th Circuit, in Houston v. Publix Super Markets, Inc., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2935 (11th Cir. Feb. 7, 2018), held that a district court did not err in admitting evidence at trial concerning payments made by a litigation funding company to the plaintiff’s treating doctors because the evidence was relevant to show bias on the part of the doctors who testified in the case. Plaintiff Robin Houston sued Publix Super Markets after she slipped and fell in one of its stores. She subsequently underwent treatment for her injuries from a number of providers, which treatment was largely funded my ML Healthcare, a “’litigation investment’ company that contracts with doctors to provide medical care for injured people with viable tort claims who lack medical insurance.” Houston, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2935, at *2. During the litigation, Publix conducted discovery regarding the relationship between Plaintiff, her treating doctors, and third-party ML Healthcare. Publix learned that, pursuant to its contracts, ML Healthcare purchases at a discounted rate from these physicians the medical debt that the putative plaintiffs incur during their treatment. The contracts also grant ML Healthcare the right to later recover the full cost of the medical care provided out of any subsequent tort settlement or judgment the treated individuals receive. Publix sought to introduce at trial evidence of these contractual relationships to show that Plaintiff's treatment providers were biased in their testimony and that Plaintiff's claimed medical expenses were unreasonable. Plaintiff sought to exclude this evidence, arguing, primarily, that it was barred by Georgia’s collateral source rule. That rule generally gives a plaintiff the right to recover damages undiminished by collateral benefits, the rationale being that a defendant should not benefit from a plaintiff’s mitigation of her losses. Polito v. Holland, 258 Ga. 54, 55 (1988). The collateral source rule usually serves to render evidence of litigation funding, for instance, inadmissible when it’s offered in an effort to reduce damages. Id. at 56. In Houston, however, Publix argued that the arrangement between Plaintiff, ML Healthcare, and non-party providers created a risk of bias on the part of the doctors, who receive referrals from ML Healthcare and who subsequently testify on behalf of the plaintiffs they have treated pursuant to those referrals. If a doctor did not provide a favorable causation opinion – necessary to win the case – ML Healthcare likely would find other doctors who would. Houston, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2935, at *15. Finding that such proffer, i.e. establishing bias, was distinctly non-substantive in nature, the Court held that, procedurally, an evidentiary purpose was served by the admission of the evidence, such that the collateral source rule would not prohibit the jury from hearing of ML Healthcare’s role in the litigation. Much like the recent state court decision in WellStar Kennestone Hospital v. Roman, 2018 Ga. App. LEXIS 34 (Ga. App. Jan. 30, 2018), the 11th Circuit has now limited plaintiffs’ use of the collateral source rule to hide the interplay of non-parties’ financial gambling in litigation. However, the Houston Court has taken it a step further than the Roman decision did. Not only is evidence of litigation funding discoverable, it may also be admissible if an evidentiary purpose is served by its introduction. The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated. The Houston Court did decline to consider whether evidence of ML Healthcare’s contract rates could be used to attack the reasonableness of Plaintiff’s claimed damages, but the path has certainly been paved for the defense bar to make this argument in the future. The Houston case discusses Alabama’s comparable collateral source rule and, in a footnote, mentions that recent legislative changes in Alabama now permit the introduction of evidence that a plaintiff’s medical bills have or will be paid. Perhaps Georgia will one day follow suit. I attended a seminar recently where we were encouraged to keep attacking these issues at the trial court level with the hope that eventually the Georgia legislature will come around. If nothing else, perhaps decisions like Houston and Roman will discourage the ever rampant medico-legal loop driving personal injury litigation. For more information on our Health Law and Regulation Update, please click here.
Georgia Court of Appeals Permits Discovery of Non-Party Billing Rates – Health Law and Regulation Update Blog Post by Claire Sumner
February 5, 2018
Health Law and Regulation Update Blog Post by Claire Sumner. A small victory last week for the defense bar! In the case of WellStar Kennestone Hospital v. Roman, 2018 Ga. App. LEXIS 34 (Ga. App. Jan. 30, 2018), the Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court decision refusing to modify a subpoena served on non-party WellStar. Appellee Mario Roman was involved in a motor vehicle collision with Autumn McKinney. As part of his discovery efforts, Roman served a subpoena on WellStar, seeking to depose WellStar regarding the rates for services provided to McKinney if said services were provided to “uninsured patients; to insured patients; to patients under workers compensation plans; to patients under Medicare or Medicaid plans; and to litigant and non-litigant patients.” WellStar sought to modify the subpoena, arguing that such information was “not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” The trial court disagreed with WellStar. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed. Highlighting the trial court’s distinction between discoverable information and admissible information, the Court of Appeals agreed that there is no authority to support WellStar’s contention that the collateral source rule bars the discovery of medical rates and charges of third parties not involved in the subject litigation. Noting the wide latitude given to make complete discovery possible, the Court reminded WellStar that its burden was to show more than that the materials or information sought would not themselves be admissible. Deloitte Haskins & Sells v. Green, 187 Ga. App. 376, 379 (1988). Practically speaking, this ruling is significant in the context of personal injury litigation, where inflated bills and litigation funding companies are becoming the norm rather than, heretofore, the exception. As more and more plaintiffs get caught up in the medico-legal loop and become indebted to non-party providers, defense attorneys face inherently more difficulty in reaching reasonable settlement agreements. However, if the Courts begin requiring providers to divulge non-party rate information, there’s hope that these excessive and usurious billing practices might be stopped. For more information on our Health Law and Regulation Update Blog or to subscribe, please click here.
Ryan Wilhelm, Jennifer Guerra, and Claire Sumner presented Best Practices for Maintaining Your Claims File at Carlock, Copeland & Stair’s Annual Insurance Coverage & Bad Faith Seminar
August 24, 2017
Ryan Wilhelm, Jennifer Guerra, and Claire Sumner presented Best Practices for Maintaining Your Claims File at Carlock, Copeland & Stair's Annual Insurance Coverage & Bad Faith Seminar on August 24 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Please contact Michelle Mattox at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like our attorneys to present in-house lunch & learn sessions or webinars.
Practice Tips: How to Avoid E-Discovery Problems After Receiving Notice of a Claim but Before the Lawsuit is Filed
June 22, 2011