truck-1.jpgA truck driver’s suit seeking compensation from her trucking company’s insurer for injuries she suffered while asleep in the passenger seat of a company truck proved unsuccessful. The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that the driver was an employee of the trucking company at all times, including while she slept, and the insurer’s policy exception for employee injuries permitted it to refuse the driver’s claim.

April Miller suffered serious injuries while riding as a passenger in a truck owned by Refa Watley Trucking. Miller and another trucker, Lewis Watley, were sharing driving responsibilities for hauling a load from Tennessee to New York when Watley was involved in an accident that caused Miller’s injuries. Miller was asleep at the time of the accident.

In accordance with federal law, all trucking companies are required to carry public liability insurance. However, federal regulations do not require trucking companies to carry insurance covering injuries suffered by employees. Miller brought her claim against the trucking company’s insurer, but the insurance company refused to reimburse her for her damages. The trucking company’s insurer, Northland Insurance Company, concluded that she was an employee, and its policy with the trucking company specifically excluded injuries suffered by employees.

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bar-neon-sign-.jpgA sports bar where a patron abruptly pulled a gun and killed a karaoke operator escaped liability to the dead man’s wife for failing to prevent the attack. Tennessee law imposes a duty on business owners to protect their patrons only from risks that are foreseeable. Because the bar and its neighborhood did not have a history of crime, and the shooter did not have a history of violence, his sudden outburst was not foreseeable and the bar had no duty to protect the dead man, the Tennessee Court of Appeals decided.

Mr. and Ms. Goeser ran a karaoke business in the greater Nashville area, and Hank Wise became a regular at the Goeser’s shows. Over time, Wise developed a fixation on Ms. Goeser. At a karaoke event at a sports bar in South Nashville in April 2009, Ms. Goeser became uncomfortable by Wise’s presence, as the man normally only attended downtown Nashville events. She approached the bar’s manager about Wise, and the manager asked the patron to leave. Wise removed a gun from his jacket and shot Mr. Goeser in the head several times, killing him instantly.

The wife sued the bar for negligence causing her husband’s death. According to the wife, the bar failed to protect her husband by having inadequate security and inadequately training its employees. The trial court concluded that Wise’s actions were not foreseeable and therefore the bar was not liable for the husband’s fatal injuries.

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Nursing_home_corridor.jpgThe daughter of a nursing home patient sought unsuccessfully to hold her father’s facility liable for the injuries she suffered when a facility worker opened a door and injured her. The woman’s case fell apart after the nursing home showed that the doors in question had, over a period of several years, no history of causing other injuries and that the doors passed all their government inspections. The woman’s proof, centered around a sign on the door and the absence of a window, showed only that an injury was possible, not likely, as required by the law.

Arlene Christian was exiting the Good Samaritan Nursing Home in Antioch after visiting her father at the facility when a worker, approaching from the opposite direction, unwittingly opened a windowless door into the woman, injuring her. Christian sued the nursing home for her injuries, alleging that several acts of negligence led to the accident. The woman sought $375,000 plus past and future medical expenses.

The nursing home asked the court to throw out the case, contending that the doors in question were not a dangerous condition, so it should not be liable for the woman’s injuries. The trial court agreed, concluding that the nursing home sufficiently demonstrated that the doors were not a dangerous condition and had no defects at the time of the accident.

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Sebring-Accident.jpgMany people believe that, in a rear-end collision, the rear driver is always at fault for accident. While this is very often true, it is not the case every time. The Tennessee Court of Appeals decision in Hicks v. Prahl illustrates one case where the rear driver was not liable, and serves as a reminder that, if you’re involved in a vehicle collision, do not assume you know the outcome regarding another driver’s legal liability (or lack thereof) just because of things you’ve heard frequently repeated by laypeople.

Marsha Hicks and Jennifer Prahl were driving on the entrance ramp to the Pellissippi Parkway in Knox County when Prahl rear-ended Hicks at a low speed. Hicks claimed that, at the time of the accident, she had slowed down to navigate the sharp curve in the ramp. Prahl asserted that, in fact, Hicks had totally stopped, despite a complete absence of vehicles in front of Hicks on the ramp.

Hicks sued Prahl for her medical injuries. Prahl argued that she was not negligent and that Hicks’s cell phone use at the time contributed to the wreck. The jury found Prahl not negligent and threw out Hicks’s case. Hicks appealed, attacking several aspects of the trial. She argued that the evidence could not allow a reasonable jury to determine that Prahl was not negligent and that the court never should have allowed Prahl to put forward evidence of Hicks’s contributing fault (by using her cell phone.) Even if she was talking on her cell phone and did stop her vehicle, Prahl was clearly negligent by following too closely and failing to operate her vehicle under control, Hicks maintained.

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car_accident.jpgA driver who was displeased with a jury verdict finding her 50% at fault for an auto accident where she was injured failed to achieve a better result on appeal. The Tennessee Court of Appeal stated that it can throw out jury verdicts only if they run contrary to all of the evidence at trial and that, in this driver’s case, both she and the other driver offered valid evidence of the opposing driver’s fault, which gave the jury ample grounds for finding the two drivers equally to blame for the accident.

Leona Salyer and Courtney Linnen were involved in an auto accident in Sullivan County when each driver attempted to turn onto a westbound road from opposite directions of Highway 11-E. Salyer was executing a right turn from the southbound direction, while Linnen was turning left from the northbound direction.

Salyer sued Linnen for her injuries. At trial, the Bluff City police chief testified that Linnen told him that she hit Salyer. Each driver testified that she never saw the other until the collision. Linnen denied telling the police chief that the accident was her fault. Salyer claimed she was in front of Linnen but could not explain how her car’s damage was in front while Linnen’s was in the back. The police chief’s report was excluded from evidence at trial.

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lamps.jpgA recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case dispenses some important insight regarding premises liability cases. In Christian v. Ayers L.P., the court determined that a woman injured when she fell walking along an unlit walkway adjoining a lodge should be allowed to pursue her case against the lodge’s owner. The court observed that property owners have (or should have) better knowledge of their properties than anyone else and the woman should be allowed to put her case, which centered around the lodge’s having numerous burned-out bulbs in its exterior lights, before a jury.

On a rainy night in November 2010, Cynthia Christian went to Ms. Lassie’s Lodge in Caryville to attend an American Cancer Society “Relay For Life” meeting. Traci Dower, a representative of the lodge’s owner who was in charge of the Relay for Life meeting, noticed at some point that the walkway between the lodge and the parking lot was dark and attempted to locate a light switch. In reality, no switch existed because the light fixtures were triggered by a light-sensing timer. The light fixtures worked, but many of the bulbs in them were burned out. After failing to find a light switch, Dower abandoned her attempt to light the walkway. While returning to her car after the meeting’s conclusion, Christian fell while walking along the walkway and suffered a broken arm as a result.

Christian filed a premises liability lawsuit against the lodge’s owner, accusing the owner of inadequately lighting the walkway. Before trial, the woman secured proof that Dower knew about the lighting issue before Christian took her fateful trip across the walkway. Nevertheless, the trial court granted summary judgment to the owner, concluding that the woman’s evidence did not sufficiently show that the owner had the necessary degree of awareness regarding the lighting situation to make it liable under premises liability law.

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shooters-1.jpgA Tennessee trial court and appellate court each concluded that the family of man killed when a drunk driver plowed into his apartment with her vehicle could not pursue a liability claim against the bar where the woman drank on the night of the accident. Tennessee law imposes clear restrictions on the potential liability of sellers of alcohol. Because the woman who caused the accident received her alcohol as a result of drinks ordered by, and served to, other bar patrons, and did not order, purchase or receive any drinks directly from bar staff, the establishment could not be held liable.

In March 2011, Ms. Langworthy crashed her vehicle into the apartment of Mr. Smith, killing him. Langworthy had a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit at the time of the accident. Smith’s family sued the driver and the bar at which she was drinking that night. After the accumulation of several affidavits, the bar moved for summary judgment. The bar claimed that the drinks the woman consumed inside the bar were all requested, purchased and received by male companions or acquaintances and that the bar’s employees never served Langworthy.

The trial court sided with the bar, granting summary judgment. The court determined that the uncontested evidence showed that Langworthy did not order or pay for alcohol at the bar and the bar’s staff did not directly provide drinks to her.

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crashed-car.jpgA recent ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court has yielded an important victory for persons injured in accidents as they prepare for trial. The ruling in Becker v. Ford Motor Company allowed an auto accident victim to alter his civil lawsuit to pursue not only the manufacturer of the vehicle in which he was riding, but also the driver of his vehicle. The ruling clarifies that injured persons may seek to add any third party mentioned in the defense’s response filing, even if the statute of limitations has already run.

On July 28, 2012, Michael Becker was riding with his son, Phillip Becker, in Chattanooga, when their Ford F-150 pickup truck left the roadway and struck a light pole, significantly injuring the father. The father sued Ford Motor Company, claiming that the truck was defective and that the manufacturer breached a warranty to the man. Ford successfully transferred the case from state to federal court, and claimed, as part of its response, that the Beckers, including the son, caused the accident.

The father sought to amend his complaint to add the son to the case as a potentially liable party. The automaker fought the requested change, arguing that, because the statute of limitations had expired and the father knew the son’s identity and role in the accident prior to the statute’s expiration, the law barred him from adding the son. The U.S. District Court asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to resolve the dispute.

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Tennessee_state_capitol_.jpgOne industry which has enjoyed an uptick in recent years is that of lenders who finance injury lawsuits. These lenders provide the up-front cash some injury victims need to pursue their case in court. In exchange, they receive a sizable payback later. Some see these lenders as necessary helpers of everyday people as they take on well-funded opponents. Others view them as predators preying upon desperate victims. The Tennessee Legislature in now joining the debate, considering a bill that would regulate the industry and restrict the amount of interest these companies can charge.

We do not advise or encourage clients to use lawsuit financing, as the interest rates are almost always excessive. In almost every case, a client can find another source of funds — family, friends, etc. to help them get through while awaiting a recovery. And debt collectors who are seeking collection of unpaid medical bills will usually suspend their activities if they learn there is a lawsuit from which they might eventually get paid. However, there are some cases in which it might be unavoidable as there is simply no other source of funds to provide for the costs of daily living. In such a case, a lawsuit loan might provide a temporary short term solution.

Lawsuit financing typically operates in the following manner: a lawsuit lender provides an agreed-upon sum of money to an accident victim who is suing those responsible. If the victim succeeds in court, then the lender gets a set percentage of the victim’s settlement or judgment award. The victims usually incurred their injuries in auto accident, workplace accident, slip-and-fall or product liability cases. In successful cases, the total recovery for the lenders often translates to an extremely high rate of interest. Some lenders also charge substantial fees for their services.

Jack Johnson, a state Senator from Franklin, proposed SB 1360, which would install several new protective restrictions on these lenders, including a mandatory five-day period in which a borrower could cancel his/her contract at no cost. The law, if enacted, would also limit lawsuit loans to a maximum three-year period and 25 percent annual interest. “It is absolutely the wild, wild west in the state of Tennessee. There is no oversight, there is no regulation, there is no cap and there is no absolutely no limit on what a lawsuit lender or lawsuit funder can charge,” Johnson told tnreport.com.

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dirt-bike-2.jpgWhile visitors who suffer injury while present on the property of another person often have a reasonable chance of success in a legal action against the landowner for negligence or other misconduct, Tennessee law does construct some hard-and-fast protections for landlowners. One of those shields exists when the visitor becomes injured engaging in recreational activities on the landowner’s property. This aspect of the law ultimately undercut the personal injury case of a motorcyclist paralyzed while riding on another man’s farm.

The case centered around an incident occurring on David Dossett’s farm in LaFollette, where he maintained trails for guests to drive off-road vehicles. Dossett had erected some “jumps” on the trails to allow riders to attempt leaps or other manuevers. Dossett neither trained nor supervised the riders that used his farm. In March 2008, Jordan Wilson visited the farm to ride motorcycles. While attempting a leap, Wilson crashed, with the resulting injuries leaving him paralyzed.

Wilson sued Dossett. The trial court threw the case out, though, determining that the Tennesses Code, specifically Section 70-7-102, shielded the landowner from any liability for the motorcyclist’s injuries. That statute pertains to visitors on the property who partake in recreational activities. The trial court decided that, because the motorcyclist engaged in a recreational activity, and that none of the statute’s exceptions (which are codified in Section 70-7-104) salvaged the injured man’s case.

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