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Product Defects and Personal Injury – Tennessee Supreme Court Allows Auto Accident Case to Move Forward

When auto accidents occur, they can be the result of individual driver errors, unsafe driving conditions, or unexpected events. In the case of Lee Ann Tatham, it is alleged that her accident and subsequent injury were not the result of her own negligence or factors out of her control, but a direct consequences of Bridgestone Tire Company’s defective tire product.  Despite sustained efforts by Bridgestone to remove Ms. Tatham’s accident claims at the summary judgment stage, the Tennessee Supreme Court has recently ruled that Ms. Tatham’s lawsuit may continue because she has raised genuine issues of fact as to the role that Bridgestone’s tires may have played in her dangerous accident.

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Ms. Tatham bought her Bridgestone tires in March 2008, after being told that they were the best value for her money. Although she did not perform any specific maintenance on the tires over the years, she also reported that she did not have any problems with the tires or her vehicle prior to her accident.  In late May 2008, Ms. Tatham was completing an eight-hour drive when she suddenly lost control of her vehicle, hit a guardrail, and flipped into a ditch. She could not identify and did not observe what happened to her vehicle, but she remembered the sudden loss of control and panic that she felt.

While on the highway, Ms. Tatham’s sudden car troubles were witnessed by a mother and son who had been driving behind her car and noticed a sudden “flapping” coming from her tires. The road conditions at the time were nearly perfect, and they did not observe anything concerning about Ms. Tatham’s driving skills.  However, shortly after they began to see the flapping on the tire, a large piece of rubber material ejected from the tire, and, at the same time, Ms. Tatham’s car veered suddenly out of control. As a result of the accident, Ms. Tatham suffered a broken back and other injuries that now prevent her from working and have caused significant pain.

For this reason, in 2009 Ms. Tatham sued Bridgestone, alleging that their faulty tire resulted in her accident and accompanying injuries. Prior to initiating the lawsuit, Ms. Tatham’s vehicle was declared totaled by the insurer and was handed over to a wrecking company, which destroyed the car and tire. As a result, Bridgestone argued that it was entitled to summary judgment on Ms. Tatham’s claims because she did not have the tire and could not prove it was defective. The trial court disagreed, denying the summary judgment motion. On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed with the lower court.

The Supreme Court noted that under Tennessee law, a plaintiff must show that a product, such as the tire, was unreasonably dangerous. This can be done through two different tests:  the consumer expectation test and the prudent manufacturer test. The consumer expectation test questions whether the tire posed a danger beyond what a customer would normally expect, while the prudent manufacturer test considers whether a prudent manufacturer would have placed a similar item into stores or for sale. In light of the evidence presented by Ms. Tatham, including the testimony of the witness drivers who observed problems with her tires, her own testimony, and the testimony of experts that her experience could be consistent with a defective tire, the Supreme Court held that there were genuine issues of fact as to whether the tire was unreasonably dangerous under either test. Accordingly, the Court held that summary judgment was inappropriate.

Ms. Tatham’s case is an important reminder to automobile accident victims that harm can come from many different sources and that it is important to carefully consider the possibility of significant product defects. In such circumstances, rather than a claim of negligence or intentional misconduct, an auto accident plaintiff may prefer to bring a claim of product liability against a potentially liable manufacturer.

Experienced auto accident attorney Eric Beasley can assist you in evaluating the circumstances of your accident and injury in order to identify the best claims that may be available to you. If you have recently been in an auto accident and are uncertain about your rights, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Evaluating Dangerous Road Conditions in Tennessee – When is Notice of Risk Enough?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 19, 2015

Tennessee Personal Injury Claims Increase Despite Reduction in Auto Accidents,  Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 15, 2015

Tennessee Auto Accident Guide – What to Do and When, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 2, 2015