When we are injured by another party’s misconduct, we may be certain that we know who and what caused our injuries. Many lawsuits are filed on the belief that a specific individual is responsible for a plaintiff’s harm, or that a certain bad act caused damages. While plaintiffs might know deep down who is responsible for the pain that they suffered, courts cannot rely on allegations and intuitions when considering legal claims. Instead, they require specific irrefutable evidence to establish the elements of a plaintiff’s claim and to show that a defendant has done harm. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates what happens when a plaintiff cannot meet this burden.
In this Tennessee property damage case, J.E. sued Piedmont Natural Gas Company for damages that he alleged were intentionally caused to his sewer line. According to J.E., in 1984, Nashville Gas Company installed a natural gas pipeline near a sewer line that serviced J.E.’s property. In 2013, sewage overflowed into J.E.’s basement. During the process of dealing with the sewer issues, J.E. learned that his sewage line had been damaged by digging equipment. According to J.E., no digging permits had been issued for his property other than to Nashville Gas Company in 1984.
J.E. sued Piedmont Natural Gas Company, which had purchased Nashville Gas Company by that time. J.E. alleged that Piedmont knowingly and intentionally damaged his sewer line while installing their gas line and that Piedmont had intentionally concealed the damage that had occurred. J.E. sought $25,000 in damages to repair his sewer line. At an initial jury trial, the jury awarded J.E. approximately $5,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $10,000 in punitive damages. Piedmont appealed.
On appeal, Piedmont argued that J.E. had not provided any evidence to show that its predecessor intentionally acted to damage J.E.’s sewer line or that the damage had been intentionally covered up. The Court of Appeals ultimately remanded the case back to the district court in order to allow further discovery to be conducted. Back at the district court level, the court offered J.E. the opportunity to conduct additional discovery, but he failed to do so. After the discovery period ended, Piedmont moved for summary judgment, arguing that J.E. had still failed to provide evidence of any intentional conduct by the gas company. This time, the district court agreed with Piedmont and dismissed the case.
J.E. then appealed, arguing that the lower court had wrongly granted summary judgment. On appeal, the Court of Appeals turned to the record below. It noted that while J.E. had provided extensive evidence of the damage to the sewer line, including photos and reports, as well as evidence that Piedmont’s predecessor had received a permit to dig near his sewer line, he had not provided any direct evidence to suggest that Piedmont had actually damaged J.E.’s sewer line and, more importantly, that it had done so intentionally. As the court noted, since J.E. did not plead a negligence claim, even a failure by Piedmont to follow proper procedures would have been insufficient to prove J.E.’s claim. Instead, J.E. needed evidence that the damage to his sewer line was intentional.
While J.E. argued that it was not possible for anyone other than the gas company to have damaged the line, the court concluded that this simply wasn’t sufficient to prove intentional conduct. The Court of Appeals therefore decided to uphold the lower court’s grant of summary judgment.
Beliefs, theories, and speculation, no matter how strong, will not be sufficient to win your claim in court. It is important to identify the relevant documents and physical evidence that can support these theories and show this evidence to the judge. Whether you are trying to show that your injury was a result of negligence or intentional conduct, proof of the defendant’s conduct matters. If you have theories or allegations, but no definitive proof, Tennessee personal injury attorney Eric Beasley can work closely with you to develop a case and investigation strategy that can help uncover the evidence you need. 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 Supreme Court Finds No Duty for Home Inspector After Deck Failure, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 27, 2017
Tennessee Court of Appeals Upholds Finding That Dog Owner Is Not Liable for Bite, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 20, 2017.
Tennessee Courts Consider When a Party Can Be Held Liable for an Agent’s Negligence, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 12, 2016.