Articles Posted in Negligent Entrustment

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 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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In a recent Tennessee car accident case, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant on the theories of family purpose doctrine and negligent entrustment. In Daniels v. Huffaker, No. E2014-00869-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 12, 2015), plaintiff’s vehicle was hit by a truck driven by Huffaker as Huffaker drove to her boyfriend’s apartment. The truck driven by Huffaker was owned by Mr. Norris, Huffaker’s brother-in-law, who was deployed on active duty to Iraq at the time of the accident. While Mr. Norris was in Iraq, Huffaker split her time between her boyfriend’s apartment and her sister’s (Ms. Norris’s) home. Ms. Norris allowed Huffaker to drive Mr. Norris’s truck during his deployment since the truck was not otherwise in use. By the time of the appeal, Mr. Norris had conceded that Huffaker was a permissive user of the truck.

Plaintiff sued Huffaker and Mr. Norris for her damages related to the accident, making claims against Mr. Norris under the theories of the family purpose doctrine and negligent entrustment. Because Huffaker was never properly served, Mr. Norris was ultimately the only defendant in the case. After a hearing, the trial court granted Mr. Norris’s motion for summary judgment on both of plaintiff’s theories of liability, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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When someone is harmed by another person who dies before a lawsuit is filed, the injured party can still bring a claim for damages based on the wrongdoer’s conduct as long as certain steps are closely followed in Tennessee’s survival statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-103.  

When the wrongdoer dies, Tennessee law tolls the statute of limitations for six months, resulting in the injured plaintiff having a total of eighteen months from the date of the injury to properly file suit (based on the standard one year for negligence claims (Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104) plus the additional six months when the tortfeasor passes away (Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-110)). After the tortfeasor dies, he or she is no longer the proper party defendant, and instead the claim is filed against the personal representative of the deceased wrongdoer’s estate. If there is no personal representative, then the injured plaintiff must petition the court to appoint a person, called an administrator ad litem, to serve as the defendant in the lawsuit. Not following these steps can result in the plaintiff’s lawsuit being dismissed, as demonstrated in the case of Ferrell v. Milller and Ivey, No. M2013-00856-CO-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 27, 2013).

In Ferrell, the plaintiff sued the defendant spouses after the defendant husband fatally shot himself while driving an SUV that crashed into the plaintiff’s car injuring the plaintiff. The crash occurred on June 25, 2010, and the plaintiff filed his complaint on June 20, 2011, naming the deceased defendant husband and the defendant wife. The defendant wife filed an answer to the complaint on December 13, 2011, and highlighted the plaintiff’s failure to appoint and serve an administrator ad litem to preserve the claims against the deceased defendant husband. On December 20, 2011, the plaintiff finally moved the court to appoint an administrator ad litem to accept service of process on behalf of the deceased defendant husband. On March 19, 2012, the court appointed an administrator ad litem, but the plaintiff failed to amend the complaint to name the administrator as the party defendant.  

Nashville is mourning the death of Steve McNair, former quarterback of the Tennessee Titans.

McNair was murdered during the early morning hours of Saturday, July 4.  It is not completely certain who murdered him, but news reports indicate that the police are not looking for suspects and appear to be exploring whether McNair’s 20-year old girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi, killed McNair and then shot herself in the head.  Apparently, the gun was found under Kazemi’s body.

USA Today has reported that the handgun recovered at the scene was recently purchased by Kazemi.  The Tennessean has a similar story.  Federal law prohibits those under 21 from purchasing a handgun from a licensed dealer.  The identity of the gun seller has not been released to the public (if it is even known).