Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Cases


In Denton v. Taylor, No. E2015-01726-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 25, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in a car accident case because “plaintiff provided no evidence establishing that the decedent’s negligence caused the accident.”

Plaintiff and the decedent, whose wife was the defendant here, were involved in a car accident in March 2013. Plaintiff could not remember anything about the accident, and the other driver was pronounced dead at the scene. In March 2014, plaintiff filed this negligence action.

Defendant moved for summary judgment fifteen months after the complaint was filed, submitting an affidavit from a sheriff’s deputy who stated that there were no witnesses to the accident and that a review of photographs and other evidence “was not able to determine the point of impact.” Defendant argued that plaintiff could not show that decedent’s alleged negligence had caused the accident. Plaintiff responded, relying on the post-mortem toxicology results that showed that decedent had hydrocodone and hydromorphone in his system.

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In Omni Ins. Co. v. Nickoloff, No. E2015-01450-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 2, 2016), the Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s finding of negligence when a vehicle struck a pedestrian walking on a sidewalk.  Specifically, it was asserted that plaintiff  was walking west on a sidewalk at 10:40 p.m., and defendant was driving west on the road beside the sidewalk. Defendant’s vehicle hit plaintiff, and plaintiff asserted that defendant was liable on the theories of negligence and negligence per se, “due to his violation of Tennessee Code Annotated 55-8-136, which provides in pertinent part that ‘every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway.’”

After a bench trial, the trial court found defendant liable. In its order, the trial court stated: “There was an automobile collision… Plaintiff’’s insured…was walking on the sidewalk. Defendant…acknowledged that he hit [plaintiff] with his vehicle.” Defendant appealed and submitted a statement of the evidence, which was “approved by the trial court as a true and accurate record of the proceedings” and received no objection by plaintiff. The statement of evidence provided only that:

  • Plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk;

A Tennessee truck crash case found its way to a jury trial, a plaintiff’s verdict, and a trip to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In Bachar v. Partin, No. M2015-00724-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict finding defendant 60 percent liable for a car accident.

The underlying facts of the case were that defendant truck driver “failed to stop in obedience to a stop sign and drove his truck into the intersection, causing [plaintiff], who had the right-of-way, to swerve and collide with another vehicle.” Although plaintiff and defendant did not actually collide, plaintiff brought suit against defendant alleging that his negligence had caused the accident. After a jury trial, defendant was found to be 60 percent at fault, while plaintiff was held 40 percent liable, and damages were awarded accordingly. Defendant appealed this decision on three grounds: (1) that the evidence did not support the jury’s liability findings; (2) that the evidence did not support the jury’s award of past and future lost wages for plaintiff; and (3) that juror misconduct occurred.

First, the Court of Appeals affirmed the liability apportionment. The Court noted that the evidence showed that the police officer responding to the accident estimated plaintiff’s speed at 43 miles per hour, while the speed limit was 30 miles per hour. The evidence also showed, however, that plaintiff had the right-of-way and that defendant “did not stop or attempt to stop” before entering the intersection. The Court held that “[t]aking the strongest view of the evidence in support of the verdict and affording reasonable inferences to sustain it, the evidence support[ed]” the jury’s finding of fault.

In Holt v. City of Fayetteville, No. M2014-02573-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 15, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims due to the city’s immunity under the public duty doctrine, a key limitation of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act.

According to plaintiffs, a police officer had arrested a suspect and placed her in a police car, yet failed to property restrain her. The suspect then stole the police car, drove “at a high rate of speed,” and collided with the car carrying plaintiffs, causing one person to die and three minors to be seriously injured. Plaintiffs brought suit against the city based on the negligence of the police officer in failing to properly restrain the suspect as she was taken into custody.

The city moved for dismissal, which the trial court granted, finding that “although the GTLA removed immunity for negligent acts of employees, Plaintiffs’ claims against the City were barred by the public duty doctrine.” The Court of Appeals affirmed this holding.

On appeal, the Court first looked to the GTLA. As a municipality, the city was entitled to immunity under the GTLA unless the situation fit into one of the enumerated exceptions in the statute. Plaintiffs argued that immunity was removed under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-202, which “removes sovereign immunity ‘for injuries resulting from the negligent operation by any employee of a motor vehicle…while in the scope of employment.’” The Court rejected this argument, noting that plaintiffs in this case “only allege that Police Officer negligently restrained [suspect] after her arrest.” The Court concluded that they were “unable to create a claim of negligent operation of a motor vehicle solely from an allegation that Police Officer negligently restrained [suspect].”

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The  Tennessee Court of Appeals recently considered an issue of first impression in Tennessee—whether a plaintiff who sues an employee and employer for negligence can proceed on direct negligence claims against the employer after the employer admits that they are vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence. After considering arguments both ways, the Court determined that in Tennessee, “an employer’s admission of vicarious liability does not bar a plaintiff from proceeding against the employer on independent claims of negligence.”

In Jones v. Windham, No. W2015-00973-COA-R10-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 11, 2016), employee, acting within the scope of her employment with a local daycare, was transporting kids in a van when she struck a minor child. The child’s mother, plaintiff, brought an action for negligence against employee, and also asserted claims for negligence per se, negligent hiring, and negligent retention against employers, as well as a claim for punitive damages against all the defendants. In their answer, employers conceded that they were vicariously liable for any negligence attributed to employee. Accordingly, employers moved for summary judgment on the direct negligence claims against them, arguing that Tennessee should adopt a rule adopted by other states “under which a plaintiff would be prevented from proceeding on any direct negligence claim against an employer once vicarious liability has been admitted.” The trial court granted summary judgment as to all direct negligence claims against the employer, though it denied summary judgment on the punitive damages claim. This Rule 10 appeal followed.

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In Garvin v. Malone, No. M2015-00856-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 26, 2016), plaintiffs sued defendant after defendant’s van ran into the rear of plaintiffs’ car. After a jury found for defendant, the issue on appeal was whether photographs showing damage to the vehicles should have been admitted since plaintiffs had not made a claim for property damage.

Defendant was traveling behind plaintiffs, a husband and wife, when a police car traveling in the opposite lane allegedly crossed into plaintiffs’ path. Plaintiff husband was driving and slammed on the brakes. Defendant hit her brakes as well, but “was unable to prevent her van from hitting the rear bumper of the [plaintiffs’] vehicle.” Plaintiffs brought a negligence claim seeking personal injury damages and loss of consortium–$825,000 for husband and $75,000 for wife.

During trial, plaintiff husband testified that he felt a “heavy impact,” and that the accident “impacted [him] heavily.” He admitted that he had no cuts or bruises, and that his body did not touch anything during the accident, but that he was “moved around in [his] vehicle.” Likewise, plaintiff wife testified: “I wasn’t thrown; I was just thrown forward…my body didn’t hit anything except to just react.” Defendant testified, however, that the accident was much less substantial, stating that she “tapped the passenger side rear bumper, about maybe an eight-inch mark, but didn’t see any paint off or anything.”

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In Jones v. Bradley County, No. E2015-00204-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2016), plaintiff sued Bradley County after she collided with a truck responding to a fire at a red-light intersection. Plaintiff had the green light at the intersection. Defendant, a fire rescue employee, was driving a Ford F-250 truck that was equipped with a siren and emergency lights. Defendant proceeded to turn left against a red-light, at which time plaintiff’s car collided with defendant’s truck, causing plaintiff significant injuries.

Bradley County relied on Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-108, which “provides privileges to emergency vehicle drivers under certain circumstances.” This statute allows emergency vehicle drivers to “proceed past a red or stop signal[,]” but still requires the driver “to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons[.]” While analyzing this case, though, the Court pointed out that that “[t]he obligation to exercise due care is, thus, not excused by the fact that the [emergency] driver is responding to an emergency call.” (citation omitted).

Bradley County further asserted that the sole cause of this accident was plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-132, which provides that “upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle making use of audible and visual signals…the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way.” The Court pointed out that, when previously applying this statute, the Court has “noted the requirement of due care when entering an intersection even under authority of a green light” and “observed that if plaintiff should have heard the siren or should have seen the blue lights flashing, she…cannot evade her duty to yield to an emergency vehicle by saying that she did not hear and did not see because she did not look.” (citation and internal quotations omitted). In response to this argument, plaintiff pointed to the County Rescue Service operations manual, claiming that defendant violated the portions of the manual that stated that emergency drivers should “slow to a safe speed at which a stop could be made, and insure that all traffic has yielded” and “change the siren mode” when approaching an intersection. Plaintiff further argued that the evidence showed that defendant did not drive with due care through the intersection.

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In Hall v. Owens, No. W2014-02214-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 20, 2015), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant where plaintiff ran a red light and turned in front of defendant’s truck. As plaintiff approached an intersection, he had a red arrow for turning left. Defendant was approaching the same intersection driving a tractor-trailer truck, and defendant had a green light. Despite the red arrow, plaintiff proceeded into the intersection and turned left, at which time he was hit by defendant’s truck and severely injured.


Plaintiff sued defendant and his employer for negligence, asserting that defendant’s negligence was the “direct and proximate cause of the collision.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, relying heavily on the footage of the accident from two traffic cameras. Based on the footage, two experts for defendant testified that defendant was driving approximately 52 miles per hour in the 55 mile per hour zone. Further, it was undisputed that defendant had a green light and plaintiff had a red arrow. It was also undisputed that defendant’s truck was well-illuminated and visible.


In response to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiff submitted expert testimony from an accident reconstructionist asserting that defendant was traveling 60-65 miles per hour, and that defendant had “six to nine seconds of clear visibility of [plaintiff’s] car.” In light of the evidence, the trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that “no reasonable minds could find anything other than the fact that [plaintiff’s] actions in driving that morning of the accident constituted negligence, and negligence per se, and that his actions were the proximate cause of the accident, at least to the extent of 50% of fault.” The trial court further found that plaintiff’s expert’s testimony regarding defendant’s speed was “fundamentally flawed” in that it failed to consider several relevant factors.

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In Ward v. Ward, No. M2014-02237-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2015), plaintiff sued for injuries her daughter sustained in an ATV accident. Daughter, who was 15 years old, was staying with her step-grandmother, the defendant in this action. Defendant gave daughter permission to drive defendant’s ATV to accompany defendant’s nephew as he drove a friend home. The destination was approximately one mile from defendant’s home. Daughter’s friend rode on the ATV with her. Daughter drove to the destination, but before returning to defendant’s home daughter switched with her friend and her friend drove on the return trip. The friend failed to make a turn and drove the ATV off a cliff.

Plaintiff asserted several theories of liability, but the only claims at issue on appeal were for negligent entrustment and negligent supervision. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant on both of these claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

To prove negligent entrustment, “a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) a chattel was entrusted, (2) to a person incompetent to use it, (3) with knowledge that the person is incompetent, and (4) that its use is the proximate cause of injury or damage to another.” (internal citation omitted). Defendant first asserted that she was entitled to summary judgment because she only entrusted the ATV to daughter, not to the friend. Defendant pointed to testimony given by daughter in her first deposition where she testified that Defendant told her to drive. Plaintiff refuted this fact, though, with evidence that during daughter’s second deposition she testified that defendant did not specify who was supposed to drive, and that defendant told daughter and friend that “they” could use the ATV. The Court found that this evidence created a genuine issue of material fact, so summary judgment was not appropriate based on the argument that defendant did not entrust the ATV to the friend.

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The Court of Appeals recently overturned a trial court’s decision that a somewhat recently reconstructed road constituted a dangerous road condition. In Church v. Charles Blalock & Sons, Inc., No. E2014-02077-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 9, 2015), plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of two women who died in an automobile accident. The facts showed that a highway had been reconfigured to bypass a town. Before the construction, highway drivers had no stop signs and simply proceeded on a curvy road. The new configuration, which included a stop sign at a “T” style intersection and a subsequent turn, opened on July 13, 2009. When it opened, the new roadway had a stop sign, a white stop bar on the pavement, and a “stop ahead” sign.

After the road opened, the State learned that many drivers were failing to stop at the new sign. In an email from a TDOT engineer to superintendent of maintenance, the engineer said that rumble strips had been suggested as a possible solution at the intersection. Rumble strips were never added, but changes were made following an accident in October 2009. In December, a junction sign was added before the intersection; large “stop ahead” signs were placed 320 feet before the intersection on both sides of the road; a directional sign with an arrow was placed before the intersection; two larger stop signs were placed on both sides of the road; and a two-headed arrow sign was placed across from the intersection.

On January 23, 2010, the driver here failed to stop her car at the stop sign and instead immediately proceeded to the right. She entered the path of oncoming traffic, causing a collision which killed her and her passenger. The evidence suggested that this was most likely her first time to drive through the newly constructed intersection, as she had been recovering from a back surgery.

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