Many 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.
The Court of Appeals was not persuaded by these arguments. Once a jury enters its verdict, an appeals court must look at the evidence in a light most favorable to the way the jury decided. In Hicks’s case, the evidence showed that there were no cars in front of Hicks and that the ramp’s sharp curve would require slowing down but not stopping. The volume of traffic on the parkway itself at the time of the accident was heavy. Given the volume of vehicles on the parkway, Prahl was reasonable to look away from Hicks’s vehicle to assess the traffic situation and to expect that Hicks would continue proceeding forward down the unobstructed ramp. As a result, the jury had enough evidence to decide that Prahl was operating her car reasonably and was not negligent when she struck Hicks.
Once the trial court found Prahl not negligent, the issue of Hicks’s comparative fault (by using her cell phone) was irrelevant. Comparative fault is a defense that, when a defendant is found liable, can reduce that person’s liability based upon the misconduct of the injured person. In Hicks’s case, the jury found Prahl not negligent, so there was no liability to reduce and the trial court’s decision to allow the comparative fault defense regarding Hicks’s cell phone use had no impact on the outcome.
Most people drive vehicles and many people have certain “facts” they think they know about driving and car accidents. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you know more about the law of negligence regarding car accidents than you really do. If you’ve been injured in a car wreck, talk to the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PSC today. We can give you a clearer picture of how the law fits with the facts of your case and help you seek recovery from those liable for your injuries.
Reach us online or call (615) 515-7774.
More Blog Posts:
TN Supreme Court: Auto Accident Victim Allowed to Add Driver to Lawsuit Against Truck Manufacturer, Nashville Trial Lawyer Blog, March 12, 2014
Tennessee Car Accident Can Be Nobody’s Fault, Nashville Trial Lawyer Blog, June 5, 2013
Photo credit: Ryanandlenny at Wikimedia Commons.