Published on:

medical evaluationIn personal injury and car accident cases, one of the central issues that a jury must decide is whether a plaintiff has been injured and, if so, the extent of those injuries. This is typically done through the introduction of medical bills, statements of medical providers, and disclosure of results of tests and other treatments. In order to properly mount a defense and argue for lesser damages, defendants are entitled to access to a plaintiff’s relevant medical records and even to have an independent medical evaluation conducted in order to determine the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. Although independent medical evaluations (IMEs) may seem invasive, they are permitted under the rules and must be complied with, as a recent case illustrates.

In this car accident case, C.P. was injured after a severe accident with K.B. C.P. sued K.B. alleging that his negligent driving was the cause of the accident and that he was responsible for her physical injuries, emotional distress, and future medical issues that might arise. K.B. acknowledged that he had some fault for the accident but disputed the extent of Plaintiff’s injuries. During discovery, K.B. sought to set up an IME with C.P. to have her reviewed by an independent medical provider. Despite repeated inquiries, C.P. refused to comply with K.B. in setting up a date for the IME. Eventually K.B. unilaterally set up a date and C.P. failed to appear.  At this point, K.B. went to the court requesting that the court order an IME. C.P. moved for a protective order but failed to provide details for why she needed protection and it was denied. The court ordered that the parties work together to schedule an IME.

K.B. reached out to C.P. four times in separate letters offering dates for a possible IME but received no response. After being unsuccessful at scheduling the IME, K.B. filed a motion to dismiss C.P.’s complaint. The trial court found that C.P. was in willful disobedience of the court’s order to schedule an IME. However, rather than dismiss the complaint, the court imposed sanctions prohibiting C.P. from presenting any evidence of her injuries, including medical bills or medical testimony, at trial. After an eventual trial in the case, the jury awarded C.P. only $500 for her injuries and she appealed.

Published on:

constructionWhen a defendant causes a plaintiff’s injury, it is generally understood that the plaintiff can bring a lawsuit against the defendant if there is a basis to do so. For example, if the defendant rear ends the plaintiff in a car accident, the plaintiff may sue for those injuries. Or if a defendant fails to maintain his property safely and knowingly allows dangerous conditions to occur, and a plaintiff is injured, a lawsuit may be possible. In some instances, however, the state of Tennessee wants to prohibit lawsuits for certain public policy purposes. It may do so by making certain defendants immune from liability under certain situations. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at one of these scenarios.

In this Tennessee personal injury case, F.T. was a prison inmate who was working on a work detail building a bridge. He was pouring concrete for the bridge when some of the concrete spilled into his boots. This lead to chemical burns on F.T.’s feet and permanent scarring. F.T. sued Wayne County, where he was incarcerated, for his injuries, asserting they had been negligent in allowing workers to use concrete without necessary protections. Wayne County immediately moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that F.T. was not allowed to sue for injuries that occurred during work detail under Tennessee law. Specifically, it argued that counties operating prisons and work details were immune from liability under Tennessee statute. The lower court reviewed the statute and agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit.

On appeal, F.T. argued with the lower court’s interpretation of the statute. Tennessee’s statute sets forth two categories of individuals who may be placed on work detail: (1) all prisoners sentenced to the county workhouse and (2) any prisoner sentenced for a period of less than a year to the workhouse or to county jail.  The statute further stated that not state or municipal agency or official should be liable to any prisoner who is injured on a work detail.  F.T. argued that the immunity provision of the statute should be interpreted only to apply to categories (1) and (2) of prisoners and not all prisoners on work detail. Because he was not one of these two categories, F.T. argued that Wayne County was not immune from liability for his injuries.

Published on:

funeralTennessee law provides very clear instruction and directives on who may bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of a loved one. Generally, such claims are limited to spouses or children unless neither such relationship exists. While this may seem straightforward, complicated questions can arise when individuals are in estranged relationships, separated, or no longer living together but have yet to formalize their decision through divorce. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates how this can add significant complications and even, in some cases, lead to the wrong individual being awarded wrongful death proceeds.

In this wrongful death case, R.B. was killed in an accident. Shortly thereafter her estranged husband, L.B. brought a wrongful death claim on her behalf and on behalf of the couple’s minor children. A guardian ad litem was appointed to represent the children in the proceedings. During the pendency of the claims, J.D. attempted to intervene to argue that L.B. did not have standing to bring a wrongful death claim on his wife’s behalf because he was estranged from her. J.D. stated that he was the biological father of R.B.’s children and he was the one with standing to bring a claim on her behalf. The court denied the motion and allowed L.B.’s claims to continue. J.D. appealed these rulings but while they were pending, a settlement in the wrongful death action was reached. The guardian ad litem agreed with the settlement and recommended that it be approved by the court. Under the settlement, L.B. received 40% of the proceeds and the children received the other 60%. The court approved the settlement and the funds were dispersed.

Not long after the settlement was reached, the appeals court considered J.D.’s appeal and determined that the lower court had erred and that an evidentiary hearing on L.B.’s standing needed to occur. It remanded the case for further proceedings. During the evidentiary proceedings, R.B.’s oldest child, who was no longer a minor, argued that L.B. had been estranged from R.B. and that he did not have standing. The court agreed. The court issued an order prohibiting L.B. from transferring the funds he had received, ordered an accounting of those funds and that they would be returned to the court.

Published on:

hard hatIn premises liability cases we often think of claims as being brought by outside third parties who are visiting a property but have no particular affiliation to it. These can be customers who enter a store, delivery men dropping off a package, or party guests coming over for a night of fun.  Less well known is the fact that premises liability claims also apply to independent contractors and workers who are hired to be on a property for a certain amount of time.  A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates this fact.

In this construction accident case, E.M. brought claims against CSC Sugar, LLC after he was injured while working at their warehouse. E.M. was a subcontractor employee who had been hired to renovate CSC’s warehouse. At the time of the accident he was up on scaffolding using a screw gun to secure sheetrock to an interior wall. Because the warehouse had limited electricity available, E.M.’s screw gun was connected to a one hundred foot extension cord that ran to the nearest outlet. Based on where E.M. was working at the time, the extension cord crossed an open doorway that was being used by CSC employees. At the time of the accident, one CSC employee drove a forklift over the doorway, the forklift became entangled with the extension cord and the snare pulled the screw gun and the scaffolding that E.M was located on, causing E.M. to fall ten feet to the concrete below. E.M. sued CSC for damages, arguing that CSC failed to maintain its property in a a reasonably safe condition.

At the motion for summary judgment state, CSC argued that E.M. had in fact caused the dangerous condition because he arranged the extension cord across the doorway, and he was aware of this condition, and on this basis there was no failure of CSC to exercise reasonable care or warn E.M. of the dangerous situation. Accordingly, the lower court granted CSC’s motion for summary judgment and E.M. appealed.

Published on:

warning-wet-1531769-197x300While in most situations it is preferable for Tennessee property owners to avoid dangerous conditions on their property altogether, in some cases it simply is not possible for owners to do so. They may need to make a repair, update construction, or start a project that necessarily leaves a dangerous condition temporarily on the property. When this happens, it becomes imperative that property owners properly warn others who enter the property so that they know that a dangerous condition exists.

A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at whether a dangerous condition was properly flagged for others and whether reasonable precautions were put in place. In this case, L.R. was injured after she slipped and fell on a wet hallway floor outside her classroom at a local middle school.  Earlier that day, custodians at the school had noticed that water was spilled on the hallway floor. They decided to mop up the water, which was on the left side of the hallway. They placed signs in a small area of the hallway to indicate to others that the floor was wet. However, they then proceeded to continue to mop the remainder of the hallway, going all the way over to the right side where L.R.’s classroom was located. The custodians did not move any of their signs to indicate this broader wet floor, and did not warn L.R. although she was in the classroom at the time.

Shortly thereafter, L.R. exited her classroom and fell almost immediately after she slipped on the wet floor. She was injured and sued the school for her injuries, alleging they had failed to properly warn of the hazard. The court, after listening to the testimony of the witnesses and reviewing security video footage of the fall, agreed with L.R. and found that the school had been negligent in failing to properly warn L.R. of the dangerous fall. The school district appealed.

Published on:

money-series-12-1238046-300x201

SONY DSC

All individuals have the constitutional right to have a jury hear their claims. This means that a jury, in addition to a judge, will listen to the facts of the case and determine whether the defendant should be found liable for his or her actions, and what amount of damages, if any, should be awarded. Even in a jury trial, however, the judge plays an important role as a “13th juror” who reviews the outcome of the case and determines whether serious errors have occurred or if the jury’s findings are inconsistent with the evidence presented in the case. In this way, the judge makes sure that the jury has not completely misunderstood the facts presented to them, or reached a biased conclusion.

Where a judge believes that a jury has ruled correctly, but has failed to accurate account for the plaintiff’s damages, in light of the evidence presented, the judge has the option of additur or remittitur. Additur is the process of adding to the jury’s verdict to create an award that better reflects the facts presented in the case, while remittitur allows the judge to reduce the award for the same reason. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looked at when additur is and is not appropriate in a jury trial.

Published on:

red-chair-black-wall-1241179-300x225Knowledge is a central component of any Tennessee negligence claim. In order for one party to be held liable for negligence toward a dangerous condition that leads to the injury of another, that party must have actual or constructive knowledge that the dangerous condition existed. This protects individuals from being held responsible for conditions or circumstances that they knew nothing about.

While defendants in a negligence case must have knowledge, they can’t use the knowledge requirement to shield themselves from liability. That is, they can’t remain willfully ignorant of a situation or circumstance so that they are not responsible for it. Instead, if they reasonably should have known, they can be held liable on that basis. A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case looks at a circumstance where even reasonable efforts could not have discovered the danger that was alleged.

In this Tennessee premise liability case, O.J. sued Goodwill Industries after she was injured in an accident at one of their Tennessee stores. O.J. entered the store looking for furniture and noticed a plastic table and chairs sitting near a storefront. She moved the plastic chair and sat down on it in order to test it out. As she sat down, the chair collapsed, breaking and causing her to fall and hit her head. She sued Goodwill for her injuries, arguing that Goodwill had failed to reasonably inspect the structural strength of the chair and that, if it had, it would have known the chair was defective and should not have been placed on the store floor.

Published on:

unusual-dumper-1514977-300x200If you have been involved in a Tennessee automobile accident and are considering whether to file a lawsuit, one of the questions that you must contemplate is whether the defendant is going to have the funds, or insurance, necessary to pay for any damages that you may be awarded. When you can’t actually recover from a defendant, it may not be worth your time and expense to initiate a lawsuit.

One way that plaintiffs can sometimes obtain a better chance of recovering on their award is to sue a defendant’s employer as well if the accident occurred while the defendant was on the job. This is called vicarious liability. While vicarious liability can be used to recover from employers who are responsible for their employees, the courts draw the line at making employers responsible for independent contractors that they may hire. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at what distinguishes an employee from an independent contractor in this analysis.

In this truck accident case, E.M. was struck by a truck driven by C.C. E.M. was thrown from his own vehicle and suffered serious injuries. He sued C.C. and Highways, Inc., for his injuries. At the time of the accident, C.C. was driving a dump truck for Highways, Inc., and was performing his duties as a driver for Highways, Inc.  E.M. argued that C.C. was acting in the role of employee, while Highways argued that C.C. was acting in the role of independent contractor. Highways quickly moved for summary judgment and, in support of their motion, submitted a list of nineteen undisputed facts, based on an affidavit from C.C., that they alleged showed that C.C. was a contractor. E.M. disputed nine of these facts and argued that this was enough to create genuine issues of material fact as to C.C.’s status and avoid summary judgment. The court held a brief hearing and ultimately concluded that there were no material facts in dispute. Accordingly, the court dismissed the claims.

Published on:

coal mineFor most Americans, the risk of injuries on a day-to-day basis is very low, with little worry that one will be habitually exposed to dangers such as a reckless driver, a hole in the ground, or an icy porch. For some, though, there are inherent risks in the work they do every day, arising from exposure to dangerous environmental conditions and elements. The risk of a Tennessee work injury is particularly high for people who work in the coal mining industry, which, for many years, has been proven to lead to serious health issues. In order to address these known complications, Congress passed the Black Lung Benefits Act, which entitles certain coal miners to benefits if they become physically disabled as a result of their coal mining work. A recent case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals looked at what is required in order to qualify for these benefits.

In this administrative appeal case, R.D. filed a claim for black lung benefits after he was rendered fully disabled due to black lung disease and a lifetime spent working in the coal mines. During the pendency of his claims, he passed away, and his wife brought a claim for survivor’s benefits. R.D.’s claim was granted by the administrative law judge who heard the case and was appealed by the defense insurer, who requested a full hearing. After the full hearing, R.D.’s claim was again granted. The insurer appealed again to the administrative board, which also affirmed the grant of benefits. Finally, the insurer appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

Under the Black Lung Benefits Act, a claimant can qualify for benefits if he or she shows that (1) he or she is a miner (2) who suffers from black lung disease (3) arising out of coal mining employment (4) if it contributed to a partial or total disability. If a claimant shows that he or she worked in a coal mine for at least 15 years, and the work was in an underground mine or conditions substantially similar to an underground mine, there is a rebuttable presumption that the miner was disabled, or killed, by black lung disease. An employer or insurer may rebut the presumption by showing that the miner did not have black lung disease, or that any respiratory illness suffered by the miner did not arise from coal mine employment.

Published on:

piece of paperWhen initiating a lawsuit, plaintiffs have a wide variety of procedural requirements that they have to follow in order to ensure that their lawsuit is brought in a timely fashion, and the defendants receive adequate notice of the lawsuit. One of these requirements is that the plaintiff must ensure that the defendant is served with a copy of the complaint that was filed and a summons so that the defendant knows to respond to the plaintiff’s allegations.  Plaintiffs can utilize a variety of means for having a defendant served, including personally serving the defendant, using a process server company to finalize service, or having the local Sheriff’s department conduct service. No matter which method is used, the plaintiff bears the burden of ensuring that service has occurred and that proof of service has been filed with the court. When service is improper or does not occur, a lawsuit may be tossed out unless the plaintiff can provide a good excuse for the error.

In a recent Tennessee motorcycle accident case, the court looked at circumstances in which the plaintiff attempted service, but the service was never actually finalized. In that case, J.E. delivered a copy of his complaint and summons to the local Sheriff’s office for service. He also sent a courtesy copy to the defendant, P.H.’s insurer, and J.E. and the insurer had ongoing discussions about the resolution of the case. After some time had passed, J.E. realized that he had never received proof of service of the complaint on P.H. and reached out to the Sheriff’s office to inquire. The Sheriff’s office could not confirm if they had served the complaint and requested more time to look into it.

The Sheriff’s office subsequently confirmed that they had not served the complaint because they believed that it had been lost within their office. The explained that J.E. could serve a second alias complaint and summons on P.H., but first the Sheriff’s office needed to confirm in writing that the original versions were lost. Several weeks passed, and J.E. did not receive this written confirmation. Eventually, he reached back out to the Sheriff’s office, and they confirmed that the originals had been lost, and service of alias documents would be appropriate. By this time, the deadline for service had passed, and P.H. moved to dismiss the case.