If you were injured in a car accident, the other driver may dispute the cause and extent of your injuries. One method the other driver’s attorney may employ to attempt to diminish your injuries is to introduce medical records that indicate that your alleged injuries existed prior to the accident. While you may think it is in your best interest to preclude any medical records that are not related to treatment from injuries caused by the accident, in a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee held that a trial court erred in excluding medical records indicating a pre-existing condition at the plaintiff’s request and remanded the case for a new trial. As such, if you are involved in a Tennessee car accident, it is important to retain a knowledgeable Tennessee personal injury attorney to assess the facts of your case and assist you in gathering evidence to support the claim you suffered new injuries or that an existing injury was exacerbated due to the accident.

Facts of the Case

Plaintiff sued defendant, alleging defendant’s negligence caused a car accident that resulted in plaintiff’s injuries. The case was tried in front of a jury, who found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her damages in the amount of $70,000.00. Defendant moved for a new trial, which the court denied. Defendant appealed.  On appeal, defendant argued, in part, that the trial court erred in excluding plaintiff’s pre-accident medical records and testimony regarding plaintiff’s medical expenses. Defendant further argued that plaintiff lacked sufficient testimony to establish her injury was permanent, and justify the award of damages that arose out of permanency.

Recently, a 53-year-old man from Del Rio was killed on in a Tennessee car accident on East Highway 25/70. A trooper reported that she and other first responders had been sent to the intersection of the highway and another road shortly before 6:30 p.m. due to the 2-vehicle accident. When the trooper arrived, she learned that the man was traveling east when he tried to pass a 2013 Honda CRV that was being operated by a 59-year-old man and his 63-year-old wife, who was 63. Their vehicle was stopped in the roadway.

When the accident happened, the decedent’s front tire hit the couple’s CRV from behind causing both vehicles to move to the left of the road and roll over. The decedent hit a utility pole and came to a stop. The decedent wasn’t wearing his seat belt.

If your loved one was killed in a car accident, you may be able to recover damages by bringing a wrongful death claim. Under Tennessee Code section 20-5-106, a wrongful death is a death caused by the injuries suffered from another or by another’s killing, omission or wrongful act. Wrongful death claims are basically personal injury claims, in which the injured person has passed on and so a family member or personal representative of the decedent’s estate has the right to bring the claim.

Recently, a Tennessee car accident led to a man being charged in criminal court. The car crash occurred on I-55 and I-240 and killed a 13-year-old girl. At the time of the accident, the man was driving on a suspended license and didn’t have insurance. He collided with an SUV parked on the side of the road. The thirteen-year-old was taken to the children’s hospital in critical condition, and later died from her injuries. Others were taken to the hospital while not in critical condition.

Inside the man’s truck were empty beer cans and vodka bottles. Someone who knew the man told the press that the man was disabled and helped people in the neighborhood find jobs.

If you are injured or a loved one is killed in a drunk driving accident, you may be able to recover damages through a civil suit. As with other types of car accident cases, you’ll likely need to show the drunk driver’s negligence by proving: (1) the drunk driver owed you a duty, (2) breach of duty, (3) actual and proximate causation, and (4) actual damages. It’s unusual for juries to award punitive damages for car accidents. However, punitive damages are sometimes awarded in drunk driving cases in order to punish the defendant and deter future misconduct. In order to obtain punitive damages you’d need to show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted recklessly, fraudulently, intentionally or maliciously.

In a recent Tennessee construction accident, an appellate decision was announced after a construction worker fell from scaffolding while working in a factory. The worker ran an extension cord over the warehouse floor so that he could reach an outlet in which to plug in a screw gun that he would use to put in sheetrock during renovation. The factory owner’s employee drove a forklift over the extension cord, which dislodged scaffolding. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the factory owner, finding there weren’t any factual disputes and no duty to warn.

The case arose when the plaintiff was employed by a subcontractor of a contractor hired to renovate an LLC’s warehouse. When he fell, the plaintiff was using a screw gun to install sheetrock on an inner wall. The screw gun was plugged into a 100-foot extension cord. He said the use of the extension cord was needed because the only source of electricity was in another place in the warehouse. As the sheetrock was being installed the defendant’s employee had moved product through the door with a forklift.

The plaintiff and his brother had hung sheetrock in that same spot for three days before the accident. On the accident date, the factory employee drove a forklift in reverse through the door and didn’t see the extension cord or the plaintiff. The cord got tangled up in the forklift and triggered the plaintiff’s fall 10 feet down to the concrete floor.

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In a recent Tennessee appellate decision, the court considered a lawsuit arising out of a tractor-trailer accident. One of the plaintiffs was hauling a trailer owned by the defendant with an over-the-road tractor. The hauler’s wife was riding as a passenger on the accident date. The hauler and his wife filed suit claiming that the accident happened because the trailer’s tandem axle suddenly came loose as they went down the highway and that the tractor-trailer overturned. The wife was injured and the trailer and tractor were damaged.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that the owner of the trailer had exclusive control over it and had negligently inspected and maintained it and hadn’t made sure the trailer complied with all federal motor vehicle safety standards. The plaintiffs claimed the trailer had caused the accident and that the wife had suffered severe and permanent bodily injuries as a result of the accident. The plaintiffs also claimed the husband had incurred lost wages due to total loss of the tractor. They asked for damages of $850,000 and later added a request for punitive damages, claiming that the defendant falsified its year inspection reports.

The defendant answered, denying claims of negligence and wrongdoing. The defendant claimed that the causes of the accident were the plaintiff’s speeding and failure to control the tractor and use reasonable care. It also claimed the plaintiff hadn’t performed the requisite pre-trip inspection in accord with federal motor carrier safety regulations and that his own negligence barred recovery.

In personal injury and car accident cases, one of the central issues that a jury must decide is whether a plaintiff has been injured and, if so, the extent of those injuries. This is typically done through the introduction of medical bills, statements of medical providers, and disclosure of results of tests and other treatments. In order to properly mount a defense and argue for lesser damages, defendants are entitled to access to a plaintiff’s relevant medical records and even to have an independent medical evaluation conducted in order to determine the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. Although independent medical evaluations (IMEs) may seem invasive, they are permitted under the rules and must be complied with, as a recent case illustrates.

In this car accident case, C.P. was injured after a severe accident with K.B. C.P. sued K.B. alleging that his negligent driving was the cause of the accident and that he was responsible for her physical injuries, emotional distress, and future medical issues that might arise. K.B. acknowledged that he had some fault for the accident but disputed the extent of Plaintiff’s injuries. During discovery, K.B. sought to set up an IME with C.P. to have her reviewed by an independent medical provider. Despite repeated inquiries, C.P. refused to comply with K.B. in setting up a date for the IME. Eventually K.B. unilaterally set up a date and C.P. failed to appear.  At this point, K.B. went to the court requesting that the court order an IME. C.P. moved for a protective order but failed to provide details for why she needed protection and it was denied. The court ordered that the parties work together to schedule an IME.

K.B. reached out to C.P. four times in separate letters offering dates for a possible IME but received no response. After being unsuccessful at scheduling the IME, K.B. filed a motion to dismiss C.P.’s complaint. The trial court found that C.P. was in willful disobedience of the court’s order to schedule an IME. However, rather than dismiss the complaint, the court imposed sanctions prohibiting C.P. from presenting any evidence of her injuries, including medical bills or medical testimony, at trial. After an eventual trial in the case, the jury awarded C.P. only $500 for her injuries and she appealed.

When a defendant causes a plaintiff’s injury, it is generally understood that the plaintiff can bring a lawsuit against the defendant if there is a basis to do so. For example, if the defendant rear ends the plaintiff in a car accident, the plaintiff may sue for those injuries. Or if a defendant fails to maintain his property safely and knowingly allows dangerous conditions to occur, and a plaintiff is injured, a lawsuit may be possible. In some instances, however, the state of Tennessee wants to prohibit lawsuits for certain public policy purposes. It may do so by making certain defendants immune from liability under certain situations. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at one of these scenarios.

In this Tennessee personal injury case, F.T. was a prison inmate who was working on a work detail building a bridge. He was pouring concrete for the bridge when some of the concrete spilled into his boots. This lead to chemical burns on F.T.’s feet and permanent scarring. F.T. sued Wayne County, where he was incarcerated, for his injuries, asserting they had been negligent in allowing workers to use concrete without necessary protections. Wayne County immediately moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that F.T. was not allowed to sue for injuries that occurred during work detail under Tennessee law. Specifically, it argued that counties operating prisons and work details were immune from liability under Tennessee statute. The lower court reviewed the statute and agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit.

On appeal, F.T. argued with the lower court’s interpretation of the statute. Tennessee’s statute sets forth two categories of individuals who may be placed on work detail: (1) all prisoners sentenced to the county workhouse and (2) any prisoner sentenced for a period of less than a year to the workhouse or to county jail.  The statute further stated that not state or municipal agency or official should be liable to any prisoner who is injured on a work detail.  F.T. argued that the immunity provision of the statute should be interpreted only to apply to categories (1) and (2) of prisoners and not all prisoners on work detail. Because he was not one of these two categories, F.T. argued that Wayne County was not immune from liability for his injuries.

Tennessee law provides very clear instruction and directives on who may bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of a loved one. Generally, such claims are limited to spouses or children unless neither such relationship exists. While this may seem straightforward, complicated questions can arise when individuals are in estranged relationships, separated, or no longer living together but have yet to formalize their decision through divorce. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates how this can add significant complications and even, in some cases, lead to the wrong individual being awarded wrongful death proceeds.

In this wrongful death case, R.B. was killed in an accident. Shortly thereafter her estranged husband, L.B. brought a wrongful death claim on her behalf and on behalf of the couple’s minor children. A guardian ad litem was appointed to represent the children in the proceedings. During the pendency of the claims, J.D. attempted to intervene to argue that L.B. did not have standing to bring a wrongful death claim on his wife’s behalf because he was estranged from her. J.D. stated that he was the biological father of R.B.’s children and he was the one with standing to bring a claim on her behalf. The court denied the motion and allowed L.B.’s claims to continue. J.D. appealed these rulings but while they were pending, a settlement in the wrongful death action was reached. The guardian ad litem agreed with the settlement and recommended that it be approved by the court. Under the settlement, L.B. received 40% of the proceeds and the children received the other 60%. The court approved the settlement and the funds were dispersed.

Not long after the settlement was reached, the appeals court considered J.D.’s appeal and determined that the lower court had erred and that an evidentiary hearing on L.B.’s standing needed to occur. It remanded the case for further proceedings. During the evidentiary proceedings, R.B.’s oldest child, who was no longer a minor, argued that L.B. had been estranged from R.B. and that he did not have standing. The court agreed. The court issued an order prohibiting L.B. from transferring the funds he had received, ordered an accounting of those funds and that they would be returned to the court.

In 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.

While in most situations it is preferable for Tennessee property owners to avoid dangerous conditions on their property altogether, in some cases it simply is not possible for owners to do so. They may need to make a repair, update construction, or start a project that necessarily leaves a dangerous condition temporarily on the property. When this happens, it becomes imperative that property owners properly warn others who enter the property so that they know that a dangerous condition exists.

A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at whether a dangerous condition was properly flagged for others and whether reasonable precautions were put in place. In this case, L.R. was injured after she slipped and fell on a wet hallway floor outside her classroom at a local middle school.  Earlier that day, custodians at the school had noticed that water was spilled on the hallway floor. They decided to mop up the water, which was on the left side of the hallway. They placed signs in a small area of the hallway to indicate to others that the floor was wet. However, they then proceeded to continue to mop the remainder of the hallway, going all the way over to the right side where L.R.’s classroom was located. The custodians did not move any of their signs to indicate this broader wet floor, and did not warn L.R. although she was in the classroom at the time.

Shortly thereafter, L.R. exited her classroom and fell almost immediately after she slipped on the wet floor. She was injured and sued the school for her injuries, alleging they had failed to properly warn of the hazard. The court, after listening to the testimony of the witnesses and reviewing security video footage of the fall, agreed with L.R. and found that the school had been negligent in failing to properly warn L.R. of the dangerous fall. The school district appealed.

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