signatureIf you have been injured in an auto or truck crash in Tennessee, you should never sign a release of claims or other document presented to you without first consulting an attorney. Although successful on appeal, one injured driver’s recent case is a cautionary story in this area. He made a major decision in signing a “Release of All Claims” document after relying only upon the statements of people who worked for the trucking company that was potentially liable for his damages. This choice almost cost him his entire chance to pursue his personal injury case — and may yet even after the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the initial decision to throw out his case.

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calendarPursuing damages for the harm you suffer in a Tennessee auto accident can take many twists and turns. Sometimes, it may center solely on litigating against the driver who caused your accident. Other times, however, the case can be more complicated, involving legal action against insurance companies, including your own insurer. In a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case the plainitff was able to defeat her insurance company’s claims that she waited too long to sue it. The ruling reaffirms that people injured in auto accidents who sue their insurers are asserting contract claims, rather than personal injury tort claims, which means that the law gives them a six-year, rather than a one-year, limitations period in which to act. However, despite this result which benefited the injured plaintiff, there are numerous pitfalls here.

The plaintiff in this case was injured in a May 2011 auto accident. The woman sued the other driver for his alleged negligence in causing the accident. Sometimes, in an auto accident case, the problem isn’t necessarily with the merits of the case or about marshaling the evidence needed to win; it is with simply locating and hauling into the court the defendant and then finding an applicable insurance policy.

That was the problem the plaintiff here faced. For 15 months, she tried to get the defendant served with the lawsuit. Eventually, the process server determined that the defendant could not be found. At that point, the plaintiff moved in a new direction, amending her lawsuit to add an additional defendant:  the auto insurance company with which she had uninsured motorist coverage. The plaintiff’s insurer was served on July 31, 2013.

Car crashIn auto accident cases, Tennessee law may allow you to recover damages for many different reasons. Damages can include medical expenses, past and future loss of wages or earning capacity, past and future pain and suffering, permanent impairment, and the loss of the ability to enjoy life, among other things. Understanding which types of damages may be available to you and which kinds of proof you need to secure such a damages award are just some of the many ways that an experienced Tennessee injury attorney can help you.

A case in which many of these types of damages were at issue was recently decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The plaintiff was a Middle Tennessee driver who was injured in a June 2013 crash. The crash was a result of the other driver’s running a red light and T-boning the plaintiff’s car on the driver’s side; she was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a strain of her thoracic spine and a knee contusion. Experiencing additional pain and muscle spasms, she went to another hospital and, later, began treatment with a chiropractor, from whom she received 39 treatments.

The following year, the woman sued the at-fault driver, and, since that driver was acting in the scope of his employment when he hit her, the woman also sued the employer. In this case, the employer admitted liability, and the trial revolved solely around the extent of the plaintiff’s damages. At the trial’s end, the judge awarded the plaintiff $271,378, making separate awards (as is permitted under Tennessee law) for past medical expenses, past lost wages, lost future earnings, past and future pain and suffering, past and future loss of enjoyment of life, and permanent impairment. The defendant appealed almost all of the areas of damages awarded, and the appeals court reversed several of the damage awards for further consideration. The case makes clear that each item of damages is separate, and must be separately supported by evidence specific to the damages at issue.

Personal injury cases that do not involve large awards for medical expenses or loss of income (earning capacity) may nonetheless result in a substantial verdict. There are many steps to achieving a truly positive result in your personal injury case, but conveying the extent to which an injury or disability has affected your day-to-day life — even in the absence of substantial economic damage — can result in a large verdict. In the case of one man recently injured in a grocery store bathroom, he and his legal team presented strong enough evidence to convince a jury, and the Court of Appeals, that he should receive a quarter-million dollar judgment for the harm he suffered.

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logging equipmentA small business in Northwest Tennessee that purchased a piece of equipment, only to lose that equipment in a fire, got good news from a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling in Smith v. Timberpro Inc., when that court gave the buyer a renewed chance to pursue legal action against the seller. The key to the ruling was Tennessee’s requirement that to create a valid disclaimer of the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness the disclaimer must be conspicuous, which the disclaimer in this case was not because it was not actually included in the sales contract but in a separate document.

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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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