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Tennessee Court Reverses Summary Judgment Ruling Based on Comparative Fault

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.

After reviewing the evidence and conducting a hearing, the lower court agreed and granted the motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs filed an appeal, arguing that the grant of summary judgment was in error.

On appeal, the appeals court acknowledged that if D.T. was 50% or more at fault for the accident, and D.P. was thus less than 50% responsible, the claim could not go forward. It also acknowledged that the video clearly showed that D.T. had swerved into D.P.’s lane and therefore had some degree of fault. However, the appeals court held that reasonable minds could differ as to how much D.P. was responsible for the accident and whether D.T. was less than 50% at fault. It noted that D.P. did owe a duty to operate his vehicle at a safe speed, notwithstanding what the speed limit might be, and the video camera evidence alone could not determine whether D.P. was indisputably driving at a safe speed. Since different minds could disagree as to whether it was reasonable for D.P. not to slow down while driving through a construction area, the appeals court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

In complicated accident cases, plaintiffs must always be aware of comparative fault and how to prove that their fault was less than that of the defendants. Experienced Tennessee truck accident attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate whether your fault might amount to 50% or more, or whether you are likely to receive compensation for your injuries.  For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Employs Rule of Seven to Evaluate Comparative Negligence Claim Against Minor, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 13, 2016

Tennessee Court Considers When a Party Can Be Held Liable For An Agent’s Negligence, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 12, 2016

Tennessee Court Declines to Review Apportionment of Fault – Bachar v. Partin, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 11, 2016