Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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bicyclesNot all personal injury cases involve straightforward facts and circumstances, in which one party clearly committed a wrong and the other party was obviously injured. In many accident cases, multiple parties make errors, mistakes, or bad decisions that lead to the ultimate accident and injuries. And in those cases, determining who is at fault, and who should be held liable, can become very complicated. This is illustrated in a recent Tennessee bike accident case decided by the Court of Appeals, in which a variety of actions led to the unfortunate death of one biker involved.

In this recent accident case, W.C. was killed during an accident involving his local road biking group. On the morning of the accident, W.C. was riding in a pace line formation with his biking friends, including M.N. and G.L. M.N.’s front tire hit G.L.’s back tire, for reasons that were in dispute, which caused M.N. to crash and led to a chain reaction down the pace line, until eventually W.C., in an effort to avoid the crash, swerved and ended up going head first over his bike. He was rendered quadriplegic and died several weeks later.

W.C.’s wife sued M.N. for W.C.’s death, and M.N. named G.L. as an additional possible defendant under the doctrine of comparative fault. W.C.’s wife then joined G.L. as an additional defendant. At trial, M.N. presented evidence that he had only run into G.L. because G.L. slowed down suddenly and unexpectedly. G.L. then presented evidence that he had not slowed down suddenly, but M.N. had failed to follow carefully and had run into his bike. Both sides presented expert testimony and the testimony of witnesses. Both. M.N. and G.L. then moved for summary judgment.

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up-the-ladder-1498174-300x226Most homeowners have, at any given time, hired a repairman or handyman to take care of some sort of project at their home. Whether fixing an appliance, building a new staircase, or correcting faulty electrical wiring, the need for help can often seem endless.  For most homeowners, the though of what would happen if a repairman injured himself while at their home never crosses their mind. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, however, addresses this exact issue after an injury during a paint job.

In this negligence case, M.E. was hired by his boss, M.T. to perform a side job at her home for her after hours. She needed various parts of the exterior of her home repainted and M.E. agreed to do so. On the first day he arrives, M.T. provided M.E. with paint, tools, and ladders to access the house. Shortly thereafter, M.T. left and did not return to the home for the next few days.

While working on the home, M.E. claimed to have experienced problems with the ladders he was provided and believed them to be faulty. Nonetheless, he wanted to finish the job so he continued to use them. On the third day, after climbing up the ladder to paint the eaves, the ladder fell out from underneath him and he tumbled to the ground, injuring his wrist.  M.E. then sued M.T. for failing to provide him with safe equipment and protect him while on her property.

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car crashIn personal injury cases, one of the biggest questions that a jury must determine is how much a plaintiff should get, if anything, in damages. Damages are usually the collection of costs like medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, damage to property, and other expenses that a plaintiff has incurred. In some instances, however, the amount that the plaintiff was initially charged for an expense is not the same as the amount that was ultimately paid. For example, perhaps a car dealership quoted the plaintiff a certain price, but the plaintiff’s friend agreed to cover half the cost. In these types of situations, a common question in calculating damages is whether the jury should look at the total expense incurred or the total expense paid.

In a recent Tennessee car accident case, the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed this precise question. At the time, A.S. and L.S. were driving their vehicle when they were hit by a truck driven by a Tennessee Department of Transportation employee. The employee turned in front of their car without giving them time to stop, and they experienced both physical injuries and damage to their property. At the time of trial, A.S. and L.S. both presented evidence of their medical bills to support their claim for damages based on medical expenses. The Department of Transportation argued that both plaintiffs had received medical discounts on their bills, and the amount of those discounts should be provided to the jury under a Tennessee statute that provided for the presentation of “actual damages.”

In response, A.S. and L.S. argued that the collateral source rule prevented defendants from using evidence that a debt had been reduced or forgiven. The idea behind the rule is that the true measure of the damages a plaintiff has faced is the damages that were billed, even if those bills were later decreased. Ultimately, the jury was allowed to review evidence of the full amount billed, and the Department of Transportation appealed.

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dumpstersSometimes when an accident occurs, the cause of the accident can easily be assigned to one person. For example, a drunk driver may hit another driver who is cautiously driving down the road. Other times, the cause can be more convoluted. While a perpetrator may be driving recklessly down the road, the victim may likewise be speeding at the time the accident occurs.

A recent Tennessee premises liability case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at a question of complicated negligence and evaluates how fault should be assigned to the various parties involved. R.O. was a builder in Tennessee who visited the East Nashville Convenience Center to dispose of building materials. The Convenience Center was a place where local residents could go to dispose of trash too big for normal pickup. The Convenience Center had two levels, one with trash bins below and one above where individuals could park their cars to throw their trash down into the lower bins. To avoid cars falling off the upper level, it was surrounded by a concrete barrier that had several holes, or cuts, used for drainage purposes.

R.O. drove his truck up to a parking spot on the upper level and got out of his car to dispose of his trash. He stood on the concrete barrier to make it easier to throw trash down below and walked back and forth from his car to the bin. While attempting to dump his trash, he stepped into one of the cuts used for drainage purposes and fell five feet below to the lower level, breaking his arm. Shortly thereafter, he sued the Metropolitan Government of Nashville for maintaining a dangerous condition at the Convenience Center and failing to properly warn citizens.

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shopping-cart-1467039-300x255Sometimes when a plaintiff is injured as a result of another’s actions, or a dangerous condition, he or she will not know precisely which defendants may need to be sued. For example, a plaintiff may sue a business for a cracked sidewalk, but might not know whether the business owns the property or if there is another landlord who should be included.

One way to discover additional defendants is through comparative fault. Where a defendant is sued and that defendant believes there are other parties who should be considered as being at fault for the accident, they may file a notice of comparative fault, designating other individuals as entities as partially responsible for the accident. This works to hopefully limit the defendant’s own liability, but also alerts the plaintiff to the possibility of other potential defendants.

In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court looked at when a second defendant who is identified after a notice of comparative fault can properly be sued and how long a plaintiff has to bring a claim. In that case, M.S. sued Publix grocery stores after she fell at her local grocery store while taking her grocery purchases to her car. According to the lawsuit, there was a loose mat outside the elevator that M.S. was using and she tripped on the mat, causing her injuries. M.S. was aware that Publix had a landlord and sued the landlord, known as the Hill Defendants, as well. At the time of her initial suit, Publix filed a notice of comparative fault identifying the Hill Defendants as potentially at fault in the accident. Shortly thereafter, for unknown reasons, M.S. dismissed the Hill Defendants from the lawsuit.

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orange doorAs previously mentioned on this blog, governmental actors are entitled to many special protections in Tennessee when they are the subjects of lawsuits. Under the Tennessee Governmental Immunity Act, governmental agencies and their employees are immune from liability in certain situations. Typically, when a governmental agency or entity is sued, the burden is on the plaintiff to show that governmental immunity does not apply. If the plaintiff cannot do so, the lawsuit will most likely be dismissed, as illustrated in a recent Court of Appeals case.

In this Tennessee premises liability case, L.W. sued the Chattanooga-Hamilton Hospital Authority after she was severely injured while visiting one of their hospitals, Erlanger, for an appointment. At the time, L.W. was recovering from a broken arm and had an appointment to visit her orthopedic doctor. When she arrived at Erlanger, she stepped into the hospital waiting room to wait for her appointment. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she was standing next to an emergency exit door that had no signage or distinguishing features. When an Erlanger employee suddenly exited the door, the door rammed into L.W., causing her to fly across the room and land on her back.

At the time of the accident, she could no longer feel anything below her neck and believed that she was paralyzed. It was later discovered that she had fractured her hip. As a result of the accident, L.W. lost significant mobility, was required to use a walker, and lived with constant pain.

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slush
Tennessee premises liability actions can arise under any circumstances in which a property owner fails to take care of dangerous conditions or does not warn guests of existing hazards. In the winter, however, these kinds of actions can become even more common as guests and customers attempt to navigate their way through snow, ice, and everything in between. As the below case illustrates, landlords and tenants must be conscious of the dangers imposed by winter weather.

In this parking lot case, T.N. was leaving a tanning session at Elite Beach Tanning Company when she slipped and fell on ice hidden below a pile of slush. T.N. did not realize the ice was there as she stepped down, fell, and injured herself. At the time of the fall, T.N. was in a parking lot adjacent to Elite, which was owned by the landlord, First Bank. T.N. sued Elite, First Bank, and the company responsible for maintaining the parking lot for her injuries. After initial discovery, Elite moved for summary judgment by arguing that T.N. could not establish that Elite owed her a duty to keep the parking spaces safe. As support for the motion, Elite attached a copy of its lease agreement with First Bank, which clearly stated that First Bank was responsible for maintaining common areas, including the parking lot. Given this agreement, the lower court granted the motion for summary judgment. T.N. was granted an interlocutory appeal and appealed to the Court of Appeals.

On appeal, T.N. argued that Elite owed her a duty to protect her from dangers in the parking spaces for two reasons. First, she argued that Elite assumed control over the parking spaces when it kept them free from employee cars and directed customers to park there. Second, she argued that since the parking spots were only 15 feet away from Elite’s front door and could clearly be seen, they constituted part of Elite’s approach, for which Elite was responsible.

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white-lines-1446293-300x300When a plaintiff files a complaint in a lawsuit, he or she must take great care to include all relevant facts that help establish his or her case. While plaintiffs are not required to include every single little detail related to the case, they must include sufficient information so that a court, taking their allegations as true, could find that a claim exists. Sometimes after an initial complaint is filed, a plaintiff will realize that certain important information is missing, or will discover new information that he or she would like to add. When this happens, a plaintiff can file a motion to amend, which, if granted, allows the plaintiff to amend the complaint to add additional information or clarify. As the case below demonstrates, courts generally allow motions to amend, if reasonable, and should consider this amended information when deciding whether to dismiss a case.

In this premise liability case, the plaintiff, B.S., was a bus driver who was attending a school district training conducted by the Nashville government. She was not allowed to drive her own bus to the training but was required to take a shuttle. After she parked her bus and began walking toward the shuttle, she tripped on a buckled and uneven portion of the parking lot pavement, causing her to fall and sustain injuries. The buckling was the result of flooding that had occurred in Nashville in 2010, three years before B.S.’s fall.

B.S. sued the Nashville government for its failure to adequately maintain the parking lot. She argued that the parking lot had been in a state of disrepair for such a long time that the government should have been aware of the condition, but failed to fix it or to warn her of the problems. Several months after the filing of the initial complaint, B.S. moved to amend her complaint to add an additional claim of negligence based on the parking lot’s failure to meet applicable building codes. B.S. had retained an expert to review the relevant building codes and the state of the parking lot and determined that the government was not in compliance. At the time of B.S.’s motion to amend, the Nashville government had a pending motion for summary judgment against B.S.

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observation deckIn many Tennessee personal injury cases, the duties of one party to another are clearly defined. For instance, a landlord owes specific duties to a tenant, and a doctor owes certain duties to a patient. In other circumstances, however, the exact duties owed by one party to another are not concretely established and must be determined by reviewing the actions of the parties and the promises made. This was the case in a recent home inspector lawsuit reviewed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

In this home defect case, D.U. sought to buy a home in Franklin, Tennessee. With the help of his brother, he hired a home inspector to inspect a possible home. The home inspector noted issues with some flooring on the deck of the home but did not report any other problems. The home owners agreed to replace the deck flooring and did so prior to the sale. Shortly after D.U. purchased the home, he hosted a party at his house. C.G. was on the deck of the house when the railing against which he was leaning collapsed, causing C.G. to fall and resulting in severe injuries. C.G. originally sued D.U., the previous home owner, the contractor who repaired the flooring, the home inspector, and the home inspection franchise. Eventually, the case was reduced to claims against the home inspector and the home inspection franchise.

C.G. alleged negligence against the home inspector for failing to exercise reasonable care in conducting his inspection and failing to notice the problems with the deck railing, including that it did not meet building inspection codes. Shortly after discovery was completed, the home inspector and his franchise moved for summary judgment, arguing that as a matter of law, they did not owe a duty to a third party like C.G. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment. The Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed the lower court’s decision. C.G. then appealed.

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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.