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dollar billFor many accident victims, the largest category of damages that arise are medical bills. For those who are injured in an accident but are uninsured, these bills can be catastrophic. Since the true costs of health care coverage can easily total in the tens or hundreds of thousands, many hospitals and medical providers will ultimately discount their bills in order to ensure coverage, or to allow patients to make some sort of payment plan that will allow for payment. At trial in a Tennessee personal injury case, the question then becomes which proof of medical expenses plaintiffs can offer:  the original medical bills or discounted versions?

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently considered this question in a case of first impression. In this case, J.D. was seriously injured in an automobile accident and sued the other driver for negligence. As part of her claim, J.D. sought to recover past and future medical expenses, and she provided itemized medical bills from 16 different medical providers. J.D. also had her doctors testify to the reasonableness of the medical bills she incurred.

Prior to trial, the defendants filed a motion to limit the evidence of medical bills that J.D. could provide. They argued that, under recent Tennessee caselaw, J.D. was only allowed to provide evidence of what she and her insurers actually paid in medical expenses, rather than the actual medical amounts billed. According to the defendants, the amounts billed were “unreasonable” evidence of medical expenses when they were not actually what was paid. The trial court held a hearing on this issue and concluded that the defendants were correct. It limited J.D. to presenting evidence of the discounted amounts her insurer paid. J.D. sought an interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that while discounted amounts needed to be used when dealing with hospital liens, they did not apply to personal injury cases. The defendants then appealed this decision.

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chest X-rayIn negligence actions, many different defendants may be at issue in a case. There may be an individual who caused an injury, or a company that produced a product that led to an injury, or an owner of a property that had a dangerous condition leading to an injury. Circumstances may also arise in which one party is responsible for the actions of a defendant because that defendant was acting as an agent for the party at the time of the injury. In these cases, even though the party didn’t take the action that caused the injury, it can still be held responsible for the actions of its agents.

A recent Tennessee wrongful death case illustrates this point. In this case, D.H. sued Trinity Hospital after his wife died following colon surgery. After the surgery, D.H.’s wife developed several complications, including intestinal obstruction. She was kept at the hospital for evaluation, but her condition continued to deteriorate. Nurses noticed leakage from her insertion wound and reported it to the doctors. Dr. A, a radiologist, conducted a CT scan to rule out the possibility of a bowel perforation, but he did not notice any problems. D.H.’s wife continued to worsen, and she eventually went into septic shock and died.

During litigation, D.H. finally received a copy of the CT scan after three years of efforts to obtain it. It showed clear evidence of air in D.H.’s wife’s abdomen, which was indicative of bowel perforation. Because of the time that had passed, D.H. could not add Dr. A. to his lawsuit. Instead, he sought a ruling from the court that Dr. A. was an agent of Trinity and that Trinity should be held liable for any damages he caused in order to prevent them from reaping the benefit of their failure to produce the CT scan.

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business doorsIn the day to day realities of life, we all have our moments when we trip while walking. We may be checking our phones, talking to someone else, or simply day dreaming the day away when we trip on a surface or object we didn’t see. If we’re lucky, we catch ourselves; if not, we fall. Despite the thousands of trips that occur every day, most do not rise to the level of a tort claim or negligence because the thing that caused us to fall was not inherently dangerous, or the owner of the property or object had no reason to believe any danger existed. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, one plaintiff tried to push a claim for negligence too far, arguing that a simple feature was enough to support his negligence claim.

In this Tennessee premises liability case, R.B. was in the process of getting routine drug testing for his work when he tripped and fell on a door frame leading into the testing facility. R.B. had been in the facility before without problem, but this time around, he was talking on the phone and not generally observing where he was going, so he did not notice the door frame as he tripped. The door frame raised slightly above the ground to accommodate the door, but it was not excessive or unusual in any respect. Despite these facts and circumstances, R.B. sued the location for negligence, alleging that the frame had caused his injuries because it was unreasonably dangerous.

The testing facility, Accurate, immediately responded with a summary judgment motion.  It made three arguments:  (1) that R.B. could not show that the door frame was unreasonably dangerous; (2) that R.B. could not show that anyone at Accurate was on notice of a dangerous condition; and (3) that R.B. was at least 50% liable for his injuries. In support of the summary judgment motion, Accurate attached photographs of the premises and the door frame, as well as deposition testimony from its facility manager, who stated that R.B. had never had any prior problems entering the premises, nor had any other visitors.

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large truckIn many personal injury cases, the question of who caused an injury can be complicated. In a car accident, for example, there may be several actors at play who contributed to an accident, and the victim may have previously experienced back or neck pain. Or a personal injury victim may later suffer another accident or injury, making it difficult to determine how much of her pain was caused by the initial injury. In these types of situations, determining causation can become tricky, as the Tennessee Supreme Court noted in a recent case involving causation in a truck pileup.

This Tennessee truck accident case resulted from a three-truck pileup that occurred in Shelby County, Tennessee. D.B. was working as a truck driver and driving his truck in July 2009 when he came upon significant traffic. D.B. slowed down and was able to come to a complete stop. However, H.F., who was also driving a truck for his employer, Celadon, was not able to stop in time and ran into the back of D.B.’s truck. As D.B. was recovering from that impact, a third truck driven by S.D., on behalf of his employer, Chickasaw, ran into the back of H.F., causing further damage to H.F. and D.B.’s trucks.

Although he did not initially believe he was injured, D.B. later began to suffer back and neck pain that increased in severity over time. He was ultimately forced to file a workers’ compensation claim and seek medical treatment. His neurosurgeon at the time found that he was suffering from a disc herniation and put him on reduced work. Eventually, D.B. was forced to stop working altogether. In 2010, D.B. filed a lawsuit against Celadon and Chickasaw, alleging that the accident with their vehicles caused his injuries.

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Dogs are a man’s best friends, and they typically bring great joy and laughter to a household. With training, patience, and love, pets can be a wonderful addition to any family. Occasionally, however, certain pets may exhibit aggression, fear, or a propensity for unpredictable behavior. In these circumstances, an owner has an obligation to protect other individuals from the possibility of violent behavior by the pet. If the owner fails to do so, he or she may be held liable for an injury that results. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals evaluates these obligations and how much knowledge an owner must have before an injury occurs.dog

In this Tennessee dog bite case, D.S. took her son with her to visit the home of her close friend W.A. D.S. and W.A. had known each other a long time, and their children were friends. When they arrived at the home, W.A.’s Australian shepherd, Ruby, was lying on the front porch. D.S.’s son approached and began to pet Ruby on the head and back. Ruby did not appear bothered by this. Later, D.S. and her son went into W.A.’s house and began to relax on a chair in the living room. Ruby came up to them, jumped up, and put her paws in D.S.’s lap, while D.S.’s son began to pet Ruby again. D.S. found Ruby’s actions amusing but not uncomfortable. Eventually, W.A. began to urge Ruby to get down. After several requests, W.A. swatted Ruby on the back, and she jumped down. Ruby ran off into another room for a few minutes and then returned. She again jumped up and placed her paws on D.S.’s lap. This time, however, Ruby bit D.S.’s son on the face, causing severe injuries.

Shortly thereafter, D.S. filed a lawsuit against W.A. for the injuries her son experienced. She argued that under Tennessee common law and Tennessee statutory law, W.A. was negligent in allowing her dog to attack D.S.’s son. In response, W.A. moved for summary judgment, arguing that she had no knowledge of any prior violence or propensity for violence by Ruby and, accordingly, could not be held responsible for Ruby’s actions. Reviewing the record and the lack of any prior history by Ruby, the lower court agreed and granted summary judgment to W.A.

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roadOften in a Tennessee truck accident, it may not be clear who is completely to blame. One party may fail to check a lane before merging, while the other is busy texting on her phone. In some states, the courts deal with this by apportioning fault and damages between parties in a negligence claim. Others, like Tennessee, are comparative fault states. Tennessee only allows for a negligence or personal injury claim to be successful when the defendant is more than 50% responsible for the accident. Thus, the plaintiff can have some degree of fault but not too much, or the claim is not viable.

In a recent automobile accident case, the question of comparative fault arose. At the time of the accident, D.P. was driving a delivery truck for his employer on a highway in Tennessee. The defendant, D.T., was also driving on that highway with his wife, ahead of D.P. and in a different lane. D.P. approached a construction site with police but did not observe any signs requiring him to slow his speed. He proceeded around the site at his same speed of 60 miles per hour. As he passed the site, D.T. decided to change lanes, immediately moving into the lane in front of D.P. D.P. was unable to slow down and ran into D.T. The accident was caught on a video camera on D.P.’s truck.

D.T. filed suit against D.P., alleging that D.P. failed to use reasonable care while driving, including failing to drive at an appropriate speed under the circumstances. According to D.T., D.P. should have slowed his vehicle when he approached and went around the construction site. D.P. quickly moved for summary judgment, arguing that the video camera clearly recorded the accident and showed that he was driving within the speed limit and that D.T. had quickly crossed lanes ahead of him. He claimed that his actions were reasonable and prudent under the circumstances and that D.T. was more than 50% at fault for the accident. The plaintiffs admitted that the video recording of the accident was correct, but they argued that reasonable minds could differ as to whether D.T. was 50% or more at fault.

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cell phonePlaintiffs who bring negligence and personal injury claims in court are often focused on gathering all of the evidence possible to show that the defendant is guilty of having caused harm. Often, in these cases, the actual injury suffered by the plaintiff becomes secondary. While proving an injury may seem like a simple matter that is less significant than proving fault, a failure to show an injury can easily end a Tennessee personal injury case. As a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals shows, plaintiffs must be careful not to neglect the importance of showing to a court that the harm they suffered was real.

In this recent prison case, J.M. alleged that he was injured after the power went off at his cell at the Turney Center Industrial Complex. According to J.M., the power went off for several days at the prison, leaving prisoners stuck in darkness. While trying to get out of his top bunk on one of those nights to go to the bathroom, J.M. missed the table on which he normally stepped because he could not see it in the dark, and he fell, hurting his knee and lower back. After discovery, the State of Tennessee moved for summary judgment on the ground that J.M. was not actually injured as a result of the fall. In support of the motion, the State submitted medical records from J.M.’s providers, which showed that J.M. had suffered from knee pain prior to the fall and that neither back nor knee x-rays showed any evidence of a traumatic injury after the fall.

In response to this evidence, the claims commissioner granted the State’s motion for summary judgment, finding that J.M. had not met his burden to show that he experienced an injury or loss as a result of the State’s actions. J.M. appealed this conclusion.

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gunGun ownership is an issue about which many Tennesseans feel passionately. While individuals may disagree about when and where individuals should be allowed to have guns, all agree that gun owners have a responsibility to use their guns safely. Recently, a case in the Tennessee Court of Appeals raised a novel issue in gun ownership, asking whether a gun owner owes a duty to protect an individual whom he or she knows is mentally unstable or suicidal from using his or her gun. This question potentially broadens the responsibility that gun owners have not only to themselves but also to others.

In this Tennessee wrongful death case, the personal representative of C.C. brought claims against J.W. after C.C. committed suicide in 2014. C.C. was a nurse with a husband and young child when she began an affair with a doctor, J.W., at the hospital where she worked. When her husband became aware of the affair, they divorced, and the husband eventually sought full custody of their child. While going through these proceedings, C.C. became increasingly depressed and upset and eventually sought the help of a psychiatrist. She was prescribed medication but continued to struggle with depression. In January 2014, C.C. attempted suicide for the first time by overdosing on her medications and mixing them with alcohol. She was transported to a local hospital, and J.W. was alerted. Eventually she was released into J.W.’s custody with instructions to receive further mental health care. Over the following weeks, C.C. learned that her ex-husband had been granted full custody of their child. She and J.W. began to disagree and temporarily separated. Several weeks later, they reconciled.

At around that time, J.W. inherited a gun and ammunition from a family member. While C.C. was visiting J.W.’s home one night, J.W. showed her the pistol and where it was located. J.W. and C.C. continued to have an on and off relationship. While C.C. also continued to see her therapist, she never told him about the attempted suicide, and J.W. did not share this information either. As a result, C.C. was not prescribed any further medication or treatment. Shortly before her suicide, C.C. and J.W. had another fight when J.W. attempted to break off the relationship. While J.W. was away on business, C.C. asked if she could stay at his home while she looked for new housing. J.W. agreed. While in his home, C.C. shot herself with the pistol that J.W. had shown her. By the time he returned home, C.C. was dead. The personal representative of C.C.’s estate sued J.W. for negligence, arguing that J.W. should have kept and stored his gun in a safe manner where it was not accessible to C.C. The representative further argued that J.W. knew of C.C.’s precarious mental state and owed a duty to protect her from the possibility that she might harm herself.

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road workRarely is the identity of a defendant more important than when the defendant is a governmental actor. Many states, including Tennessee, have developed unique rules and requirements that apply to personal injury claims brought against governmental actors, in large part to protect them from liability. Since governments provide such a wide range of services and are involved in providing amenities that affect the day-to-day activities of many citizens, they are often at risk of lawsuits. Special governmental immunity statutes like Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act protect governments from litigation when they are operating in the normal course of their functions. If plaintiffs do not meet the unique requirements of these statutes, they are at risk of having their lawsuits thrown out based on this immunity. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates this risk.

In this Tennessee property damage case, J.T. brought claims against the Trousdale County Highway Department for damage to his home that he alleged he experienced as a result of the Highway Department’s efforts to fix a road in front of his house. According to J.T., the Highway Department used a vibratory drum compactor near his house, and the strong and significant vibrations caused damage to his exterior and interior, including vaporizing the brick exterior of his house, causing damage to the foundation, and affecting the drywall inside his home. Although J.T. experienced these damages shortly after the Highway Department’s work occurred, he did not file his lawsuit until almost three years later, shortly before the statute of limitations was to expire.

The Highway Department immediately responded to J.T.’s complaint with a motion to dismiss, arguing that J.T.’s claims were subject to the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) and were therefore time-barred under the GTLA. The lower court agreed and dismissed the case. J.T. appealed.

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Celtic crossWhen an individual passes away due to another party’s negligence, the law provides that the decedent’s claim for damages should not simply disappear. Instead, two types of potential claims can be brought in response to the death. In some states, the decedent’s claim passes to immediate relatives like a spouse or children through “survival” statutes, and these family members can claim the decedent’s damages from the injury. Alternatively, in some states, immediate relatives instead can bring a wrongful death claim. This is a claim that is based not on the damages that the decedent experienced but on the damages the immediate relatives experienced as a result of the decedent’s death. Recently, the Tennessee Supreme Court clarified that Tennessee has a hybrid statute that combines these two types of claims and allows immediate relatives to bring their own lawsuits after a family member dies.

In this Tennessee wrongful death decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court considered the case of Mr. H. Mr. H.’s wife had elective surgery to treat colon cancer in 2004. After the surgery, she began to experience various medical complications. Almost a week later, she was re-admitted to the hospital, but it was too late because she was already in septic shock. Despite attempts to treat her, Mrs. H. died several hours later. Almost a year later and just before the statute of limitations deadline, Mr. H. filed a pro se wrongful death complaint, alleging that the hospital failed to treat Mrs. H. properly and that Mr. H. was entitled to damages as a result of her death.

The defendants immediately moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Mr. H. could only bring his claims as a representative of Mrs. H.’s estate, rather than as his own personal claims. Furthermore, they argued that only attorneys can bring representative claims, and since Mr. H. was not an attorney, his complaint had to be dismissed. The lower court denied the motions, finding that while a decedent’s immediate relative brings a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate, representing all of the beneficiaries’ interests, since Mr. H. was the only beneficiary of the estate, he could bring the claim in a personal capacity.