Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

Under federal law, for an expert report to be admissible the party introducing the report must show the expert witness is qualified, the report sets forth an opinion relevant to determining an issue of fact, and the testimony is reliable. The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee recently explained that a district court evaluating whether an expert report should be admitted is not required to analyze whether the report is correct, but only if the report is supported by a reliable foundation. If you were the victim in a Tennessee car accident, it is in your best interest to retain a knowledgeable car accident attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding the accident and develop a plan to assist you in recovering damages.

Factual Scenario

Allegedly, the plaintiff and the defendant driver were involved in a car accident. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant driver, a truck driver, was negligent and that his employer should be held vicariously liable for her injuries. In response, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff caused the accident. The defendants served the plaintiff with expert disclosures as required by Federal law. The defendants’ expert reviewed photographs, video footage, and analyzed the specifications of the plaintiff’s vehicle, a reconstruction program and his own experience in determining that the plaintiff caused the accident by driving into the path of the defendant driver and that the collision was minor. The plaintiff moved to preclude the expert and his report, arguing that the report was contrary to the photographs of the accident and the physical evidence. The plaintiff also argued the report alleged negligent behavior on behalf of the defendant driver, not the plaintiff.

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Under Federal and State laws regulating motor carriers, tractor-trailer drivers are required to keep logs of their driving times. If you were involved in a car accident with a tractor-trailer, the logs may be important evidence in proving the tractor trailer’s driver was negligent. While the employers of tractor-trailer drivers involved in collisions have a duty to produce any logs in a lawsuit arising out of the collision, it may not always be clear when it is necessary to retain records. The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee recently held that boilerplate language in an incident report was not sufficient to place the employer on notice that it needed to retain records. If you are involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer you should confer with an experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney as soon as possible, to ensure any evidence that is helpful to your case is not lost.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff and a defendant tractor-trailer driver were involved in a collision in October 2016. Plaintiff sued defendant driver for negligence and defendant’s employer for vicarious liability. In June 2017, plaintiff sent defendants correspondence in which she requested that defendants preserve any evidence related to the accident, and specifically asked defendants to retain any daily logs produced by the electronic logging device in the truck for the date of the accident and the six months preceding the accident. Defendants advised plaintiff they no longer had the logs due to the fact that they were automatically overwritten every six months. Plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions against defendants alleging that defendants purposefully destroyed evidence related to the accident.

If you have been involved in a Tennessee automobile accident and are considering whether to file a lawsuit, one of the questions that you must contemplate is whether the defendant is going to have the funds, or insurance, necessary to pay for any damages that you may be awarded. When you can’t actually recover from a defendant, it may not be worth your time and expense to initiate a lawsuit.

One way that plaintiffs can sometimes obtain a better chance of recovering on their award is to sue a defendant’s employer as well if the accident occurred while the defendant was on the job. This is called vicarious liability. While vicarious liability can be used to recover from employers who are responsible for their employees, the courts draw the line at making employers responsible for independent contractors that they may hire. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at what distinguishes an employee from an independent contractor in this analysis.

In this truck accident case, E.M. was struck by a truck driven by C.C. E.M. was thrown from his own vehicle and suffered serious injuries. He sued C.C. and Highways, Inc., for his injuries. At the time of the accident, C.C. was driving a dump truck for Highways, Inc., and was performing his duties as a driver for Highways, Inc.  E.M. argued that C.C. was acting in the role of employee, while Highways argued that C.C. was acting in the role of independent contractor. Highways quickly moved for summary judgment and, in support of their motion, submitted a list of nineteen undisputed facts, based on an affidavit from C.C., that they alleged showed that C.C. was a contractor. E.M. disputed nine of these facts and argued that this was enough to create genuine issues of material fact as to C.C.’s status and avoid summary judgment. The court held a brief hearing and ultimately concluded that there were no material facts in dispute. Accordingly, the court dismissed the claims.

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.

In many personal injury cases, the question of who caused an injury can be complicated. In a car accident, for example, there may be several actors at play who contributed to an accident, and the victim may have previously experienced back or neck pain. Or a personal injury victim may later suffer another accident or injury, making it difficult to determine how much of her pain was caused by the initial injury. In these types of situations, determining causation can become tricky, as the Tennessee Supreme Court noted in a recent case involving causation in a truck pileup.

This Tennessee truck accident case resulted from a three-truck pileup that occurred in Shelby County, Tennessee. D.B. was working as a truck driver and driving his truck in July 2009 when he came upon significant traffic. D.B. slowed down and was able to come to a complete stop. However, H.F., who was also driving a truck for his employer, Celadon, was not able to stop in time and ran into the back of D.B.’s truck. As D.B. was recovering from that impact, a third truck driven by S.D., on behalf of his employer, Chickasaw, ran into the back of H.F., causing further damage to H.F. and D.B.’s trucks.

Although he did not initially believe he was injured, D.B. later began to suffer back and neck pain that increased in severity over time. He was ultimately forced to file a workers’ compensation claim and seek medical treatment. His neurosurgeon at the time found that he was suffering from a disc herniation and put him on reduced work. Eventually, D.B. was forced to stop working altogether. In 2010, D.B. filed a lawsuit against Celadon and Chickasaw, alleging that the accident with their vehicles caused his injuries.

Often 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.

Typically, negligence and personal injury claims are evaluated by considering the testimony presented by each party as to what happened at the time of the accident and who was at fault. The credibility of witnesses is evaluated, experts and evidence may be provided to support each party’s version of the facts, and ultimately a judge or jury must determine whose story they believe. But what happens when one party can’t remember what happened at the time of the accident? A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals addresses this issue.

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One of the foundational principles of the public judiciary is that judicial proceedings should be open and transparent for the public. For this reason, filings, papers, and arguments made by parties in a lawsuit are typically considered part of the public record and can be viewed by others, although sometimes for a small fee. In very limited circumstances, parties can request that a court “seal” a paper that is filed, or the record of the proceeding in its entirety, in order to protect the privacy of parties involved. This can happen when one party is a minor or when sensitive information is being discussed, such as with medical records, cases involving sexual or child abuse, or situations when confidential financial information is at issue. Even when a court agrees to seal a record, the parties cannot use that to their advantage to keep important information from another party in a related lawsuit, as illustrated by a recent decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

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In cases in which summary judgment motions are filed, the movant must be able to establish that there are no material factual disputes that would create genuine issues for trial. It is only in the absence of any factual discrepancies that a court will conclude, prior to trial, that one party is entitled to summary judgment. Sometimes, in an effort to establish a lack of material facts, one party will assert that his or her recollection of an incident is the definitive story of what happened, and, thus, the issue is without dispute. This is often done through an affidavit or the testimony of a deponent. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at whether an affidavit is sufficient to warrant summary judgment.

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As anyone who has been involved in a lawsuit can tell you, litigation is rarely a fast or efficient process. It may take years for a case to proceed from the initial complaint all the way to a jury trial, with plaintiffs left waiting in the wings throughout. Courts recognize that litigating lawsuits can be a time consuming and lengthy endeavor, and are constantly seeking to make the process more efficient and less costly for parties. One way to do this is to ensure that courts do not have to duplicate their efforts by dealing with the same issues in multiple different lawsuits. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court considered these issues in addressing whether the victim of a truck accident could bring his own lawsuit at the same time that his insurer had a lawsuit already in court.

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