In negligence cases, defendants can only be held liable for damages that result from actions that they have directly caused. For example, if a plaintiff is involved in an accident during a thunderstorm, she may be able to sue the other driver for injuries that she sustained during the car accident. However, if she is also struck by lightning from the thunderstorm, she cannot seek damages for any damages related to those injuries, since they were caused by an independent intervening event, the lightning strike. While the intervening cause is clearly separate and distinct from a driver’s negligence in that example, separating the two is not always so easy. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court considered whether the suicide of a young woman was an independent cause of the daughter’s and her family’s injuries, or a foreseeable result of a police department’s failure to take action.
Premises liability and negligence claims arise when property owners have knowledge of circumstance or conditions on their property that could potentially cause harm, but they do not do anything to address those risks. While knowledge or awareness of a risk can be broadly interpreted, courts have consistently held that property owners should not be held liable for conditions that they could not have anticipated would cause harm. Thus, when a stair breaks unexpectedly, without reason, the owner of the stairs usually will not be at fault. Similarly, as discussed in the case below, when a restaurant owner has never had problems with the safety of a handrail before, and a fall occurs, the restaurant owner will not be held responsible unless he had some indication that the injury and fall could happen.
When a litigant appeals a decision by a lower court in a personal injury or wrongful death action, the appeals court must review the record that was before the lower court, the evidence presented to the judge or jury, and the reasoning behind the court or jury’s decision. In order to conduct an adequate review, the appellate court must have enough information from the lower court to fully understand what happened and how the court reached the outcome that it did. When a lower court fails to do so, the appellate court may be forced to overturn or vacate the decision, as it did in a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case.
When a party is injured by the negligence of another party, that individual typically has claims for the pain and suffering and other damages that they experienced. Additionally, in some states, like Tennessee, those who knew the party, were closely related to the person injured, or witnessed the injury that occurred may also have their own claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). Since NIED claims could potentially open a defendant up to many claims by many different parties, they are typically construed quite narrowly and require plaintiffs to show that they were immediately affected by an “injury producing event.” In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court considered whether an injury producing event had to occur instantly or could be the product of prolonged negligence over time.
If you’ve been severely injured in a Tennessee car accident, you may be able to access workers’ compensation funds if the car accident occurred while performing work for an employer. Workers’ compensation provides payments to an injured employee to cover lost wages and medical expenses. If the employee suffers a partial or total disability, he or she may receive a lump sum or series of payments to cover the wages that cannot be earned as a result of the disability. If the employee dies as a result of the workplace injury, the estate or family may recover the designated benefits.Workers’ compensation was designed to provide employees with quicker access to funds while shielding an employer from liability. However, this does not prevent an injured party from pursuing damages in a negligence action against other parties who share responsibility for the injuries.
The Tennessee Supreme Court recently issued an opinion stemming from a workplace car accident that caused a carpenter to suffer numerous serious injuries. The accident fractured the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck and herniated discs in his lower back. The injured carpenter underwent surgery to alleviate his neck pain, but he still experienced back pain whenever he bent forward or backward. After reviewing the carpenter’s complaints, the surgeon recommended additional surgery to help heal the residual pain. The insurance company denied the coverage for surgery, due to the peer review performed by three other physicians, who did not think surgery was necessary. The additional request for epidural steroid injections was also denied. To manage the pain, the carpenter took opiates. When the pain became too great, he took a greater amount of medicine than prescribed and consumed alcohol. The injured carpenter admitted this to a pain management specialist, and he agreed to take his medication as directed and call before adjusting his dose.
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.
While relevance may seem like a straightforward concept to grasp during a trial, it can often be surprisingly complex. Judges are tasked with the difficult directive of keeping a trial on task and on point, which includes excluding evidence that may not be relevant to the actual issues being decided. Often, parties may feel that negative evidence about the other party is relevant to their whole story and should be considered by the jury, or small details should be included so that the jury has the full picture, while a judge finds such evidence irrelevant, unnecessary, and maybe even prejudicial. As discussed below, a recent case out of the Tennessee Court of Appeals considers whether evidence of a driver’s error, ultimately irrelevant to any legal claims, was wrongfully excluded from trial.
When a plaintiff wins a lawsuit, the jury must typically decide the amount of damages that the plaintiff should be awarded, based on the evidence that the plaintiff has presented at trial. When a plaintiff so requests, juries can award damages for both economic injuries that were suffered (such as costs incurred or wages lost) and noneconomic injuries, such as pain and suffering. While parties may attempt to quantify noneconomic injuries to make it easier for juries to decide what should be awarded, the jury has discretion in determining how much money they think is appropriate. When a jury awards a plaintiff an amount of money that seems far too low or far too high, parties may appeal to the court for relief, asking the court to add to the award or reduce the award, based on the evidence presented at trial.
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.
At the heart of every negligence case is the question of whether the alleged defendant actually owed a duty to the plaintiff who was injured. Without the presence of a duty, the defendant simply cannot be held responsible for any accident or injury that might have occurred. In Tennessee, individuals generally do not owe a duty to prevent another individual from harming themselves or to prevent a harm that they had no part in creating. This is often known as the no duty to aid doctrine. However, as with most general rules, there are some exceptions. Recently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals considered whether a special exception applies to prisons when they are in custody of a prisoner, or even after the prisoner is released.