Not 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.
The trial court ultimately granted the motions for summary judgment on the basis that W.C. had assumed the risk of a possible crash when he decided to engage in biking with a biking group, including biking in a pace line fashion. The court held that such activities had an inherent degree of risk, and since W.C. knew this, he was at least 50% responsible for his own accident. Under Tennessee’s comparative fault doctrine, since W.C. was at least 50% at fault, his wife could not recover for his injuries and death. W.C.’s wife appealed.
On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals noted that under Tennessee law, assumption of risk is no longer a bar to recovery in a negligence action. The court noted that even when an event is risky, those participating in the event still have a duty to act with reasonable care toward other participants. When there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether they acted reasonably, a negligence action may proceed to allow the jury to determine this fact. Here, the Court of Appeals noted that there were questions as to whether M.N. and G.L. acted reasonably while participating in the biking pace line or if either individual took actions that were unreasonable, and those unreasonable actions led to W.C.’s injuries.
The Court of Appeals concluded that while it was unclear whether M.N. or G.L. might have acted unreasonably, given the conflicting evidence, this was ultimately a question for the jury to decide. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court ruling granting summary judgment and remanded the case back for further proceedings on the merits.
This case makes clear that even when individuals choose to participate in risky or dangerous activities, the mere assumption of that kind of risk does not mean that they can never bring personal injury or wrongful death claims if an accident happens while they are participating in that activity. If you have lost a loved one when they were participating in a sports event, experienced Tennessee wrongful death attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate your claim and determine the actors who may be at fault. 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:
Tennessee Court Confirms Collateral Source Rule Still Applies, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, March 7, 2018.
Tennessee Court Reminds Plaintiffs To Be Wary of Statute of Limitations, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 4, 2018.
Sixth Circuit Overturns Harsh Pleading Standards in Auto Accident Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 6, 2016.