Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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hard hatIn premises liability cases we often think of claims as being brought by outside third parties who are visiting a property but have no particular affiliation to it. These can be customers who enter a store, delivery men dropping off a package, or party guests coming over for a night of fun.  Less well known is the fact that premises liability claims also apply to independent contractors and workers who are hired to be on a property for a certain amount of time.  A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates this fact.

In this construction accident case, E.M. brought claims against CSC Sugar, LLC after he was injured while working at their warehouse. E.M. was a subcontractor employee who had been hired to renovate CSC’s warehouse. At the time of the accident he was up on scaffolding using a screw gun to secure sheetrock to an interior wall. Because the warehouse had limited electricity available, E.M.’s screw gun was connected to a one hundred foot extension cord that ran to the nearest outlet. Based on where E.M. was working at the time, the extension cord crossed an open doorway that was being used by CSC employees. At the time of the accident, one CSC employee drove a forklift over the doorway, the forklift became entangled with the extension cord and the snare pulled the screw gun and the scaffolding that E.M was located on, causing E.M. to fall ten feet to the concrete below. E.M. sued CSC for damages, arguing that CSC failed to maintain its property in a a reasonably safe condition.

At the motion for summary judgment state, CSC argued that E.M. had in fact caused the dangerous condition because he arranged the extension cord across the doorway, and he was aware of this condition, and on this basis there was no failure of CSC to exercise reasonable care or warn E.M. of the dangerous situation. Accordingly, the lower court granted CSC’s motion for summary judgment and E.M. appealed.

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red-chair-black-wall-1241179-300x225Knowledge is a central component of any Tennessee negligence claim. In order for one party to be held liable for negligence toward a dangerous condition that leads to the injury of another, that party must have actual or constructive knowledge that the dangerous condition existed. This protects individuals from being held responsible for conditions or circumstances that they knew nothing about.

While defendants in a negligence case must have knowledge, they can’t use the knowledge requirement to shield themselves from liability. That is, they can’t remain willfully ignorant of a situation or circumstance so that they are not responsible for it. Instead, if they reasonably should have known, they can be held liable on that basis. A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case looks at a circumstance where even reasonable efforts could not have discovered the danger that was alleged.

In this Tennessee premise liability case, O.J. sued Goodwill Industries after she was injured in an accident at one of their Tennessee stores. O.J. entered the store looking for furniture and noticed a plastic table and chairs sitting near a storefront. She moved the plastic chair and sat down on it in order to test it out. As she sat down, the chair collapsed, breaking and causing her to fall and hit her head. She sued Goodwill for her injuries, arguing that Goodwill had failed to reasonably inspect the structural strength of the chair and that, if it had, it would have known the chair was defective and should not have been placed on the store floor.

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coal mineFor most Americans, the risk of injuries on a day-to-day basis is very low, with little worry that one will be habitually exposed to dangers such as a reckless driver, a hole in the ground, or an icy porch. For some, though, there are inherent risks in the work they do every day, arising from exposure to dangerous environmental conditions and elements. The risk of a Tennessee work injury is particularly high for people who work in the coal mining industry, which, for many years, has been proven to lead to serious health issues. In order to address these known complications, Congress passed the Black Lung Benefits Act, which entitles certain coal miners to benefits if they become physically disabled as a result of their coal mining work. A recent case before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals looked at what is required in order to qualify for these benefits.

In this administrative appeal case, R.D. filed a claim for black lung benefits after he was rendered fully disabled due to black lung disease and a lifetime spent working in the coal mines. During the pendency of his claims, he passed away, and his wife brought a claim for survivor’s benefits. R.D.’s claim was granted by the administrative law judge who heard the case and was appealed by the defense insurer, who requested a full hearing. After the full hearing, R.D.’s claim was again granted. The insurer appealed again to the administrative board, which also affirmed the grant of benefits. Finally, the insurer appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

Under the Black Lung Benefits Act, a claimant can qualify for benefits if he or she shows that (1) he or she is a miner (2) who suffers from black lung disease (3) arising out of coal mining employment (4) if it contributed to a partial or total disability. If a claimant shows that he or she worked in a coal mine for at least 15 years, and the work was in an underground mine or conditions substantially similar to an underground mine, there is a rebuttable presumption that the miner was disabled, or killed, by black lung disease. An employer or insurer may rebut the presumption by showing that the miner did not have black lung disease, or that any respiratory illness suffered by the miner did not arise from coal mine employment.

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escada-1568954-225x300Under Tennessee law, summary judgment is a ruling that is reserved only for those cases where there are no disputes of material fact, and no way for the plaintiff or defendant to succeed in light of the facts that have been presented. Because the standard is so high, summary judgment is only rarely granted, and most cases are left for the jury to decide. Sometimes, however, courts may incorrectly read the facts, and believe that there is less dispute than there really is. When this happens, summary judgment can be granted inappropriately, as in a recent premises liability case.

In this case, A.S. sued S.S. for injuries that she incurred while catering an event at S.S.’s home. As part of the event, the caterers were required to use a back entrance and set of steps when coming in and out of the home. A.S. went up and down these steps several times over the course of the evening, in the light, without issue. However, at the end of the night, she descended the steps in the dark holding onto a railing. A.S. could not see the railing and did not notice that it had ended. As she leaned forward to continue to grab onto it, she fell forward and down the stairs, severely injuring herself. A.S. filed claims against S.S. alleging that S.S. had been negligent in failing to properly light the stairs and fix the guardrail. In response, S.S. initially argued that the stairs had been lit and that the area was not dangerous when A.S. descended.

Later on, after discovery was completed, S.S. moved for summary judgment and argued that, in fact, the lights had been off and the time of the accident and that A.S. was negligent for failing to turn them on before she descended the steps. The trial court agreed and granted the summary judgment motion. A.S. appealed.

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One of the central tenants of being a litigant is that you have a duty to preserve any evidence that you know may be relevant to the litigation. Once it is reasonably foreseeable that litigation may occur, a party must make all reasonable efforts to “hold” important evidence and present it from being disposed of. This means that parties may be required to maintain all their emails, back up documents, and preserve any relevant voicemails. The duty to preserve applies equally to physical evidence that needs to be maintained and should not be destroyed, as illustrated in a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

In this truck accident case, J.G. and E.G. were injured after an accident involving their tractor and a trailer. On the day the accident occurred, J.G. was using his tractor to haul a trailer that belonged to R&J Express, LLC. According to the plaintiffs, the tandem axle on the trailer came loose while they were driving on the highway and the trailer quickly lost control. It eventually overturned, causing the tractor to overturn as well, and leading to both plaintiff’s injuries. Shortly thereafter, J.G. and E.G. retained counsel, and the counsel sent a litigation hold letter out to R&J instructing them to preserve the trailer at issue. Four days later, J.G. signed over the title of the tractor to his insurer, which had paid out for the accident, and the tractor was sold for scraps.

Several months later, J.G. and E.G. filed their lawsuit and R&J promptly responded. R&J then filed a motion for sanctions based on the spoliation of evidence. R&J argued that J.G. and E.G. knowingly failed to preserve evidence when they signed over title to the tractor after retaining legal counsel. R&J stated that because there were no witnesses to the accident, their defense would have to rely primarily on showing that some other technical error caused the accident. To the extent that the technical error came from the tractor, R&J were severely prejudiced as they had no ability to examine the tractor and determine any defects.

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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.