While relevance may seem like a straightforward concept to grasp during a trial, it can often be surprisingly complex. Judges are tasked with the difficult directive of keeping a trial on task and on point, which includes excluding evidence that may not be relevant to the actual issues being decided. Often, parties may feel that negative evidence about the other party is relevant to their whole story and should be considered by the jury, or small details should be included so that the jury has the full picture, while a judge finds such evidence irrelevant, unnecessary, and maybe even prejudicial. As discussed below, a recent case out of the Tennessee Court of Appeals considers whether evidence of a driver’s error, ultimately irrelevant to any legal claims, was wrongfully excluded from trial.
When a plaintiff wins a lawsuit, the jury must typically decide the amount of damages that the plaintiff should be awarded, based on the evidence that the plaintiff has presented at trial. When a plaintiff so requests, juries can award damages for both economic injuries that were suffered (such as costs incurred or wages lost) and noneconomic injuries, such as pain and suffering. While parties may attempt to quantify noneconomic injuries to make it easier for juries to decide what should be awarded, the jury has discretion in determining how much money they think is appropriate. When a jury awards a plaintiff an amount of money that seems far too low or far too high, parties may appeal to the court for relief, asking the court to add to the award or reduce the award, based on the evidence presented at trial.
In cases in which summary judgment motions are filed, the movant must be able to establish that there are no material factual disputes that would create genuine issues for trial. It is only in the absence of any factual discrepancies that a court will conclude, prior to trial, that one party is entitled to summary judgment. Sometimes, in an effort to establish a lack of material facts, one party will assert that his or her recollection of an incident is the definitive story of what happened, and, thus, the issue is without dispute. This is often done through an affidavit or the testimony of a deponent. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at whether an affidavit is sufficient to warrant summary judgment.
At the heart of every negligence case is the question of whether the alleged defendant actually owed a duty to the plaintiff who was injured. Without the presence of a duty, the defendant simply cannot be held responsible for any accident or injury that might have occurred. In Tennessee, individuals generally do not owe a duty to prevent another individual from harming themselves or to prevent a harm that they had no part in creating. This is often known as the no duty to aid doctrine. However, as with most general rules, there are some exceptions. Recently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals considered whether a special exception applies to prisons when they are in custody of a prisoner, or even after the prisoner is released.
In most negligence cases, a plaintiff must show how a defendant breached a duty and how that breach caused his or her injuries. But in certain scenarios, a plaintiff may be certain that a defendant caused the injury but uncertain how the breach occurred or why it caused the injury it did. For instance, a plaintiff may own a shop that sells safes on the second floor of a building, when a safe falls out of the window of the store and onto a passerby. The passerby does not know how or why the safe fell but can be reasonably certain that it is something that should not have happened and is likely a result of the store owner’s negligence. This is the type of scenario in which the res ipsa loquitur doctrine can be applied. The res ipsa loquitur doctrine means “the thing speaks for itself” and applies when a plaintiff lacks direct proof of a defendant’s negligence but is entitled to an inference that the defendant was negligent. In a recent case before the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court considered but rejected an argument based on res ipsa loquitur.
When a plaintiff is injured as a result of a defendant’s actions, many different types of damages can be claimed. A plaintiff may seek reimbursement for medical expenses or lost wages, or the value of property destroyed or damaged. In certain situations, plaintiffs may also recover for the emotional distress that they suffered as a result of their accident or injury. While emotional distress damages are typically allowed when a personal injury has occurred, a recent Tennessee Court held that they were not allowed as a result of property damage.
In this day and age of increasing litigation costs, more and more cases are settled long before trial begins. Plaintiffs frequently empower their attorneys to represent them in settlement negotiations, allowing lawyers to do much of the back and forth in reaching a settlement agreement. While it is important to have an attorney representing you in any settlement negotiations resulting from your auto accident or personal injury claim, plaintiffs must be careful to make sure that their attorney fully understands what they want and whether they are willing to compromise. Otherwise, as seen in a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case, errors and miscommunication can ensue.
As anyone who has been involved in a lawsuit can tell you, litigation is rarely a fast or efficient process. It may take years for a case to proceed from the initial complaint all the way to a jury trial, with plaintiffs left waiting in the wings throughout. Courts recognize that litigating lawsuits can be a time consuming and lengthy endeavor, and are constantly seeking to make the process more efficient and less costly for parties. One way to do this is to ensure that courts do not have to duplicate their efforts by dealing with the same issues in multiple different lawsuits. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court considered these issues in addressing whether the victim of a truck accident could bring his own lawsuit at the same time that his insurer had a lawsuit already in court.
When auto accidents occur, most drivers are quick to point fault at another driver, unforeseen distractions in the road, or defects in their vehicle. However, negligence can also arise due to the construction and maintenance of the road itself. For instance, intersections may be constructed in such a manner so that visibility is limited, or a large danger in the road may not be corrected. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, a plaintiff argued that the State’s failure to properly maintain a road over years of wear and tear also created a defective condition that led to her car accident.
The question of foreseeability in negligence claims does not arise only when dealing with dangerous conditions or known defects. An individual’s propensity to commit certain acts of violence may also raise questions of foreseeability. Thus, when an entity has control over an individual, like a school or employer, and has reason to know that that individual may have committed bad acts in the past, but nothing is done to stop the individual, harm may be foreseeable, and a duty may be created. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals considered whether a school had a duty to protect a student from sexual assault by another student because the possibility of sexual assault was foreseeable.