Personal Injury Plaintiff Wins Summary Judgment

Although summary judgment is often thought of as a tool for defendants, plaintiffs in personal injury cases should remember that motions for summary judgment can be beneficial and successful for them as well. In Bloomfield v. Metro. Govt. of Nashville and Davidson Co., No. M2014-00438-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 26, 2015), plaintiff was a firefighter employed by Metro. He responded to a call regarding an elderly patient who was in a wheelchair. When a paramedic arrived to assist in moving the patient, the plaintiff and the paramedic moved the patient in the wheelchair towards the door of the home, where they realized that the patient would have to be lifted to clear a door threshold and step down. Plaintiff was at the head of the chair while the paramedic was at the foot. Plaintiff told the paramedic to hold on a second and turned to get information from family members, but the paramedic lifted the foot of the wheelchair without communicating to plaintiff first. When plaintiff saw that the chair was about to tip backwards he grabbed it, injuring himself.

Because the paramedic was also employed by Metro, plaintiff sued Metro for the injuries he alleged to have sustained due to the paramedic’s negligence. Plaintiff used the deposition testimony of several Metro employees to show that there was a standard for lifting a patient in a wheelchair and that the person at the head of the wheelchair was responsible for initiating the lift. Further, plaintiff used the paramedic’s own deposition testimony, wherein he admitted that he violated procedure by lifting at the foot before everyone was ready. Relying on these facts, plaintiff successfully moved for summary judgment as to liability for the paramedic’s negligence, and a trial was conducted on damages only, wherein plaintiff was awarded the maximum amount allowed under the Governmental Tort Liability Act.

Despite Metro’s assertion on appeal that genuine issues of material fact existed, the Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment. Based on the evidence developed and relied upon by plaintiff, the Court found that the existence of a procedure that the paramedic violated was supported by three Metro employees, and that there was “no evidence in the record that is contrary to the aforementioned testimony that the person at the head of the wheelchair determines when to initiate the lift by communicating that instruction to the person at the foot of the chair and that the person at the foot may not lift the wheelchair until the person at the head of the chair instructs him to do so.” The Court accordingly affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for plaintiff, as well as its finding on damages.

This case is a great example of a plaintiff in a negligence case supporting and succeeding on a motion for summary judgment. Here, the plaintiff was able to use deposition testimony to establish the existence of a procedure and the violation of the same, and because defendant could not rebut those facts, plaintiff succeeded in proving liability before the trial even began.