Negligence in a personal injury lawsuit can be proven by a variety of means. A witness may testify to observing negligent behavior, or the negligent actions may be documented in writing. Alternatively, there may be independent objective evidence of negligence, or, in rare instances, negligence may be inferred from the circumstances of the case. When evidence of negligence is presented in a manner that the trial court is in the best position to observe, such as through witness testimony, appellate courts will generally give significant deference to the observations and conclusions of the trial court. However, when the evidence of negligence can be independently evaluated by the appellate court (such as in the case of a writing), the appellate court may, in some circumstances, re-evaluate that evidence on its own and reach an independent conclusion. In a recent case before the Court of Appeals in Knoxville, the Court took it upon itself to review video evidence previously provided to a trial court and ultimately reversed the trial court’s decision.
In Peters-Asbury v. Knoxville Area Transit, Ms. Peters-Asbury sued for injuries she incurred while riding Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) buses. Ms. Peters-Asbury was a student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville at the time of the accident, and she had received a pass from the University to utilize KAT’s disability bus services. She had a lingering knee injury that gave her significant mobility restrictions. On Ms. Peters-Asbury’s first day of classes, she requested transport from KAT to get her from one of her classes, at Bueller Hall, to the Disability Services office on campus, which was at Dunford Hall. The KAT bus, driven by Michael Chigano, picked her up and transported her to Dunford. However, rather than using the main entrance, the bus dropped her off at a side entrance. As she was exiting the bus, Ms. Peters-Asbury tripped, fell, and fractured her ankle. She ended up in a wheelchair and ultimately had to withdraw for the semester, due to lingering complications from the injury.
Several months later, Ms. Asbury-Peters sued KAT for negligence. She alleged two theories: (1) KAT had been negligent in dropping her off at the side entrance to Dunford Hall rather than the main entrance, and this contributed to her fall; and (2) the bus failed to stop while dropping her off, causing her to trip and fall. At trial, Ms. Asbury-Peters testified that the bus was moving when she stepped off, while the driver, Mr. Chigano, testified that it was not. As a result, the trial court relied heavily on its evaluation of video footage taken by bus security cameras at the time of the accident. The footage was exceptionally difficult to view, but the trial court ultimately determined that it showed that the bus was moving when Ms. Asbury-Peters stepped off, and the court awarded her medical damages, lost tuition, and pain and suffering. In response, KAT appealed.
On appeal, the court noted that when a trial court hears and sees witness testimony, considerable deference is afforded to the trial court’s determination of facts. However, when documentary evidence is at the heart of a trial court’s determination, the appellate court noted that such deference is not necessary, and the appellate court may review the evidence de novo. Here, the appellate court reviewed the video evidence of the bus and reached a contrary conclusion. It found that there was no evidence from the tape that the bus was moving at the time of the accident. Because of the narrow point of view of the video, the court determined that it was impossible to use any stationary objects as reference for movement, and therefore it could not be determined that the bus was in motion. On that basis, it reversed the trial court’s decision and the judgment in favor of Ms. Asbury-Peters.
Plaintiffs may use many different forms of evidence at their disposal when attempting to prove negligence claims. Some may be deemed more credible than others, and some may be more thoroughly re-reviewed by appellate courts. If you are a plaintiff who is considering bringing a personal injury lawsuit, it is worth your time and effort to carefully evaluate the evidence available to you and make strategic decisions about how to present it. Knowledgeable Tennessee auto accident attorney Eric Beasley can help you identify and compile evidence to support your claim. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.
Related Blog Posts:
Implied Negligence Claims In Tennessee – Dennis v. Donelson Corporate Centre , Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, July 21, 2016
Premise Liability for Unmarked Drop Offs In Tennessee, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 28, 2016
Limiting the Scope of Duties Tennessee Universities Owe to Their Students, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 21, 2016.