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Where a company had properly rejected uninsured motorist coverage for its fleet of vehicles in 2002, and the company submitted standard information for its 2011 policy renewal, the 2002 rejection remained in effect and uninsured motorist coverage was not part of the company’s automobile insurance policy.

In Hughes v. The Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company, No. E2020-00225-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 30, 2021), plaintiff was the driver of a vehicle owned by a large healthcare company (HMA). Plaintiff was in an accident while driving an HMA vehicle, and he filed a personal injury suit and gave HMA’s insurer, defendant Liberty Mutual, notice of a potential uninsured motorist claim.

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The Tennessee Supreme Court reviews very few cases in a given year.  In the year ending June 30, 2020 (the last period for which information is publicly available) the High Court was asked to accept review in 569 cases.  (These are the cases where the Court has the discretion whether to hear the case or allow the lower court ruling to stand.  There are other types of cases that the Court is required to hear.)  Out of the 569 cases it was asked to review, it accepted only 20.

In the same fiscal year, the Court issued opinions in 63 cases.

Given the case selection criteria in discretionary review matters and the types of appeal-as-of-right cases, each opinion is highly likely to materially impact Tennessee law.

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The parties in Djeneba Sidibe et al. v. Sutter Health, Case No. 3:12-cv-04854-LB, a civil antitrust case in federal court in San Francisco, are in a dispute over whether a case ready for trial should be tried virtually.  Plaintiff seeks an immediate virtual trial.  Defendant opposes it.

The joint submission by the parties on the issue includes arguments for and against virtual jury civil jury trials and a host of case law on the issue.  This 16-page letter , which includes an exhibit for remote and safety protocols for the trial, cost tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer time to prepare.

And you get the benefit of the work at no cost.

Where plaintiff had filed complaints with the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) complaining of the same allegations that allegedly supported her legal malpractice claim, and those BPR complaints were filed more than one year before the legal malpractice suit was filed, summary judgment based on the statute of limitations was affirmed.

In Jones v. Marshall, No. M2020-01627-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 28, 2021), plaintiff filed this pro se legal malpractice claim against defendant on December 20, 2019. Plaintiff had previously reported defendant to the BPR based on the same allegations in November 2018. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the BPR decisions on the matter “were res judicata and Plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case of legal malpractice.” Defendant filed a separate motion for summary judgment, asserting that the complaint was barred by the statute of limitations.

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Where plaintiff had no evidence that defendant took any action that contributed to him being knocked off a ladder while nailing a board to a window, summary judgment for defendant was affirmed.

In Malone v. Viele, No. E2021-00637-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 27, 2021), plaintiff and defendant were friends who both had construction work experience. Defendant needed help nailing boards across a window on his cabin that was under construction, and plaintiff agreed to assist him. Plaintiff and defendant were both on ladders, and one would hold the lower end of the board while the other nailed the upper end of the board to the cabin. Plaintiff had placed his own ladder and was using his own hammer during the project. Plaintiff was nailing one board while the other end was being held at a lower diagonal by defendant, when after placing a few nails in the board, plaintiff hit the board again with his hammer and the board bounced back and knocked him off his ladder, causing serious injuries.

Plaintiff filed this personal injury suit, asserting that defendant’s negligence caused his injuries. During his deposition, plaintiff was asked what defendant was doing when the injury occurred, and plaintiff stated that defendant was “holding the lower end” of the board. When asked what defendant did “that caused the two-by-four to come out,” plaintiff responded that he did not know. During his own deposition, defendant stated that he was “just holding the board” at the time of the accident.

Where a child was removed from his parents’ custody by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and placed in a home that DCS’s own investigation had found to be unsafe, and the child later died while in that home, the Claims Commission had subject matter jurisdiction of the parents’ negligence claim because the child was in the care, custody, or control of the State when the negligent inspection and recommendation for placement was made.

In Green v. State of Tennessee, No. M2020-01244-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 15, 2021), plaintiffs were the parents of three minor children. After receiving a report of abuse and/or neglect concerning the children, DCS removed the children and the mother signed an Immediate Protection Agreement (IPA) stating that temporary custody would be given to the children’s grandparents. Ms. McSwain was the DCS case manager assigned to the case, but a DCS staff member in the grandparents’ county visited the home and found it to be unsafe, specifically noting that there was not “sufficient furniture for safe sleep.” Despite that finding, Ms. McSwain placed the children in the grandparents’ home, and she never visited the home or followed up to see if any changes had been made. A court order granting temporary custody to the grandparents was eventually entered. Four months after being placed with the grandparents, one of the children died “from co-sleeping in a recliner with [the grandmother].” Ms. McSwain and her supervisor “were subsequently terminated by DCS for negligence.”

Parents brought this negligence suit against the State pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(E), and the State filed a motion to dismiss asserting that the Claims Commission did not have subject matter jurisdiction of the case. The State argued that because there was a court order granting temporary custody to the grandparents in place when the child died, the child was not in the State’s “care, custody, and control,” which is required by the statute. The Claims Commission agreed with the state, finding that the case did not fall within the  subsection cited by plaintiffs, that governmental immunity was therefore not waived, and that it accordingly did not have subject matter jurisdiction. This holding was reversed on appeal.

Where decedent had filed a personal injury and loss of consortium case in West Virginia, settled that case, and then received a portion of the settlement proceeds before his death, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of this Tennessee case filed by decedent’s heirs “seeking to have the settlement proceeds received pursuant to the West Virginia litigation characterized as wrongful death proceeds.”

In Welch v. Welch, No. M2021-00081-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 10, 2021), plaintiffs were the heirs of decedent, who had previously died of mesothelioma. Before his death, decedent filed suit for personal injury and loss of consortium in West Virginia. That suit was settled, and decedent received several distributions from the settlement proceeds before he died.

After decedent’s death, plaintiffs filed this suit in Tennessee, attempting to have the remaining settlement proceeds distributed as wrongful death proceeds rather than having them distributed under decedent’s will. The trial court dismissed the action, finding that the settlement of the personal injury case “very clearly intended to foreclose upon any future wrongful death funds related to the mesothelioma litigation,” and the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

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The Tennessee Claims Commission hears and adjudicates claims alleging that personal injury or wrongful death was caused by the acts or omissions of employees of the State of Tennessee.  The Commission also hears worker’s compensation claims asserted by State employees and breach of contract claims when the State is a party to the contract.

The Commission follows the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, but has modified the rules in several important respects.

BirdDog Law has created a resource that merges the rules of civil procedure with the modifications set forth by regulation.  Thus, those practicing before the Claims Commission can look to one resource to determine the rules of procedure in the Commission.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a defendant in a state court lawsuit served with process can immediately remove to federal court before the in-state defendants are served and the federal court will assume control of the for the out-of-state party (ies).  The decision is Texas Brine Company, L.L.C. v. American Arbitration Association.  

Thus, a plaintiff filing an action in state court with both in-state and out-of-state defendants and who is attempting to avoid federal court will want to promptly serve at least one in-state defendant.

The word on the street is that some out-of-state defendants are monitoring state court filings and will immediately remove a case before they are served and any in-state defendant is served.  (This practice was criticized in Bowman v. PHH Mortgage Co.; the Bowman court required that one least one defendant needed to be properly served and joined before removal could properly take place.)

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