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ATVsTypically during the settlement of claims between a plaintiff and a defendant, the defendant will want assurances that the plaintiff will not turn around and sue him or her again for different types of related claims, or otherwise continue to drag out litigation after a settlement is reached. In order to create these assurances, parties will usually sign what is known as a release.

A release essentially gives up outstanding claims that a plaintiff may have, whether known or not known at the time. Releases can be narrowly limited to the exact facts of the case or more broadly construed to cover any possible claims a plaintiff may have. While releases are often a normal part of the settlement process, they must be treated very carefully, since a plaintiff can easily and unwittingly give up more than he or she intended. This is illustrated in a recent Tennessee personal injury case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

In this ATV accident case, L.J. was a passenger in an ATV accident and was severely injured. The driver of the ATV, L.S., was killed in the accident.  L.J. alleged that the accident was a result of negligence on the part of L.S. and brought a claim for medical bills and personal injury against L.S.’s estate in probate court.  L.J. also filed a lawsuit against the personal representative of L.S.’s estate. At the time, L.J. also had uninsured motorist coverage through Geico, and Geico was added as a party to the lawsuit. The estate subsequently settled with L.J., offering her a semi truck that had been owned by the defendant, which was sold and of which L.J. received the profits.

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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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graveUnder Tennessee’s wrongful death statute, when a loved one dies, there are certain family members who get priority to bring wrongful death lawsuits on the loved one’s behalf. Spouses have the primary right to bring such a claim, while children have a secondary right after spouses.  Since Tennessee legislators did not want anyone to benefit off the intentional killing of another person, any person who intentionally causes the death of a loved one cannot then bring a claim on that person’s behalf. This principle is known as the slayer statute.  While the slayer statute clearly applies to intentional harm, it is unclear whether it also applies to someone who negligently causes the death of another person. A recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision addressed this issue.

In this Tennessee wrongful death case, C.M. and J.B were involved in a road rage dispute when their vehicles crossed into incoming traffic and caused an accident. As a result of the accident, C.M.’s wife was killed. C.M. and his wife had one daughter, B.N.  Shortly after the accident, B.N. filed a wrongful death action on behalf of her mother and named both C.M. and J.B. as defendants. In the complaint, B.N. alleged that C.M. was under the influence of an intoxicant at the time of the accident and that his negligent actions disqualified him from bringing a wrongful death lawsuit himself. At the time, C.M. was in jail for vehicular homicide resulting from the accident.

C.M. later filed a wrongful death action on behalf of his wife, arguing that B.N.’s complaint should be dismissed because he had priority to file the wrongful death lawsuit as the spouse. C.M’s lawsuit named J.B. as a defendant but did not name himself. Ultimately, the trial court agreed with C.M. that he had priority and dismissed B.N.’s complaint.  B.N. appealed. On appeal, the appellate court held that C.M. had an inherent conflict of interest because he could be both the plaintiff and the defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of his wife, and accordingly only B.N.’s lawsuit would allow for the full prosecution of all claims C.M.’s wife, and B.N.’s mother, might have. It reversed the lower court and reinstated B.N.’s claim. C.M. then appealed.

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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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question markThe way lawsuits are structured presumes that plaintiffs will usually know which defendant they want to sue. They will know the name of their neighbor or doctor or employer and be able to identify that person in a lawsuit. Sometimes, however, it isn’t so simple. You may want to sue a manager who inspected the equipment that injured you but not know that person’s exact name, for example. In those instances, plaintiffs typically use “Jane Doe” or “John Doe” to stand in for an unidentified individual. While cases can proceed against Does for some period of time, courts will require that they eventually be identified or be dismissed.

For instance, in a recent Tennessee auto accident case, S.S. brought claims against K.S. for being hit by a truck driven by K.S. while at a truck stop. S.S. also sued K.S.’s employer, CCI. During the course of discovery, CCI learned about the possibility that another individual had actually hit S.S. Specifically, CCI learned that a 911 tape of the accident existed. It requested a copy of the tape first by subpoena and then by public record request. Once it had the tape, it located the number of the man who had called in, found him, and deposed him. He testified that S.S. had in fact been hit by an unidentified driver driving an Averitt tractor trailer truck.

When CCI learned this, they moved to amend their complaint to add an affirmative defense that Averitt and the John Doe driver were responsible for the accident. Averitt moved to strike the affirmative defense, arguing that CCI had not properly identified the John Doe, and, since they could not identify him, the claim should be dismissed. The lower court agreed and dismissed the affirmative defense. CCI 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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car accidentTennessee, like most states throughout the country, imposes limitations on how long plaintiffs have to bring their legal claims, including claims for personal injury. These limitations ensure that claims must be brought within a reasonable amount of time and that plaintiffs cannot simply sit on claims for years before deciding to bring them.

Statutes of limitations are one of the most common ways that plaintiffs accidentally lose their opportunity to bring a lawsuit. Unless very special circumstances exist, after a statute of limitations has passed, a plaintiff is out of luck. For this reason, both plaintiffs and their attorneys must pay close attention to statute of limitations deadlines in order to avoid accidentally losing their opportunity for justice and compensation.

In a recent Tennessee car accident lawsuit, the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed precisely this type of circumstance. In this case, J.P. was injured after she was involved in an accident caused by B.L. on February 2, 2015. The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Tennessee is one year, so J.P. brought a lawsuit against B.L. on February 2, 2016.  Unbeknownst to her at the time, B.L. had died on January 4, 2016. Several months after filing her complaint, J.P. learned of B.L.’s death and sought to bring her claim against B.L.’s estate instead. At the time, B.L.’s estate did not have an administrator, so J.P. petitioned for an administrator and in October 2016, moved to amend her complaint to name the administrator as the defendant.