Bringing claims in a Tennessee courtroom can be expensive. Getting a case ready for trial takes extensive preparation, discovery, and long days and nights thinking through the details of the case. This means that fees can add up, and lawyers may seem too expensive to consider. In these circumstances, some plaintiffs decide to go it alone in their case, acting as a pro se plaintiff, or a plaintiff without representation, in the courtroom. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates the complexity of bringing a premises liability lawsuit without an attorney and the care that must be taken in proving all of the elements of a negligence or failure to warn claim.
With the passage of several recent laws in Tennessee, plaintiffs seeking to bring claims against doctors and health care facilities must meet stringent requirements for providing notice and information to potential defendants. When these procedural requirements are not met, plaintiffs can be prevented from seeking relief and have their claims dismissed. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, one such claim was dismissed after a plaintiff failed to provide proper notice to defendants under the laws.
One of the most overlooked aspects of any negligence claim is the requirement that a plaintiff show that the danger or harm she experienced actually caused the injuries that were incurred. Often, when an accident or injury occurs, and a dangerous condition existed, we simply assume that the two are connected. In court, however, plaintiffs bear the burden of making this connection, and without it, a court will not find a defendant responsible.
Wrongful death claims are claims brought on behalf of an individual who has died as a result of another party’s tortious conduct. Since the deceased individual cannot bring a claim, certain family members are statutorily permitted to do so. Most state statutes, including Tennessee’s, carefully prescribe who is permitted to bring a wrongful death claim. This helps to avoid distant family members or acquaintances from bringing a claim that should rightfully belong to a spouse or child. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently looked at whether a daughter can bring a wrongful death claim when a spouse is also alive and wishes to bring a claim as well.
Under basic principles of negligence law, an individual or entity can only be held liable for injuries that another person suffers if the individual or entity had a duty to help prevent those injuries from occurring. A duty arises out of some obligation from one party to another. This can be created when there is a special relationship between the parties (such as parent-child) or when one party is aware of a foreseeable risk that it has the ability to prevent. This is illustrated in a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, in which an intoxicated employee asked for his employer to be held liable for allowing the employee to drive his own vehicle home while intoxicated, which resulted in a crash.
Generally, when an individual acts negligently, he or she can be held liable for any injuries that result from such negligence. In certain instances, however, affirmative defenses may be available that insulate the defendant from liability. For instance, if an individual is acting at the instruction of another party or while under duress, a court may decide that although negligent conduct occurred, the defendant should not be held liable for it. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at whether a police officer could successfully claim that he was acting in response to a sudden emergency in order to avoid liability for an accident he caused.
When dealing with premises liability and other personal injury cases, it is well accepted that landlords and owners have a duty to warn those entering or using their property of known dangerous conditions. If a plaintiff does not know that a condition exists, it is impossible for them to avoid it, and an injury or even death can result. When a landlord or an owner makes a plaintiff aware of a dangerous condition, but the plaintiff knowingly decides to encounter it anyway, liability may transfer from the defendant to the plaintiff. That is, the plaintiff may become comparatively negligent, and the defendant may be absolved from liability. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals deals with one of the more rare circumstances in a comparative negligence claim – when a plaintiff is aware of the risk and knowingly encounters it, but the defendant may still be liable for the injury that results.
In recent years, more and more public spaces have begun to carry automated external defibrillators, also known as AEDs. These devices allow individuals to respond quickly to instances of cardiac arrest or other heart-related emergencies. AEDs do require training in order to be used effectively, and many of the distributors of AEDs now offer training in conjunction with the purchase of the devices so that they can be used safely. A recent case before the Tennessee Supreme Court considers the obligations and duties placed upon sellers and purchasers of AEDs when employees and individuals are not trained on how to safely use them.
In Wallis v. Brainerd Baptist Church, Ms. Wallis sued Brainerd Church for wrongful death after her husband died while working out at a gym owned by the Church. Several years before, Brainerd Church purchased several AED devices from a distributor known as ExtendLife, Inc. In conjunction with the purchase of the devices, Brainerd Church also purchased the “Annual Physician Oversight Program Management,” which gave the church access to training programs so that its employees could learn how to use the AEDs, as well as consultation, monitoring, and support. Brained Church, with ExtendLife’s assistance, held several classes to train members and employees on how to use the AEDs. In 2011, Mr. Willis was participating in a cycling class at Brainerd’s exercise facility when he collapsed. The cycling instructor at the time was trained in how to use an AED but believed Mr. Wallis was suffering from a stroke, rather than a heart-related event, and did not use the AED. Several other bystanders brought the AED over and called 9-1-1, but ultimately they did not use the device. By the time emergency personnel arrived, Mr. Wallis was dead.
Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, states and governments are often immune from liability and cannot be sued in state or federal courts. Similarly, many states have enacted governmental tort liability acts that provide immunity to governmental entities and actors within a state, such as local police departments and school districts. Tennessee has the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (TGTLA), which sets forth the circumstances under which a governmental entity can and cannot be sued. In a recent case before the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, the court took a look at when immunity applies to discretionary actions performed by a school district.
Tennessee is a comparative negligence state. This means that when a plaintiff’s negligence is greater than a defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff cannot recover compensation from the defendant, even if the defendant was partially negligent in causing an accident or injury. Comparative negligence assumes full capacity, however, and special rules must be applied when dealing with negligence claims involving children. The courts choose to treat them differently and apply a test known as the Rule of Seven to determine how responsible a child plaintiff is for his or her own negligence. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals applies this test in considering a negligence claim from a teenage plaintiff who fell while at summer school.