Articles Posted in “Blue Chip” Tort Cases

Where a child was injured at school but her parents had no evidence that the school had breached a duty of care or that an action by a school employee caused the injury, summary judgment was affirmed.

In Webster v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, No. M2018-00106-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 11, 2019), plaintiffs were the parents of a six-year-old girl with autism. While at kindergarten, the girl injured her arm, and plaintiffs brought a negligence suit under the GTLA. Plaintiffs amended their complaint more than once, and each version alleged that the injury was caused by a lack of appropriate care in the classroom. More than two years after filing suit and “after all discovery had been completed,” plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their complaint again, this time seeking to add “allegations that [the child’s] injuries occurred on the playground and that Metro was negligent in allowing her on the playground and in failing to provide appropriate supervision.” The trial court denied the motion to amend and then granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs could not “demonstrate that an employee of the Metropolitan Government breached a duty of care owed to plaintiffs,” and that “plaintiffs failed to prove cause in fact or proximate cause.” The Court of Appeals affirmed.

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Intentional Interference With Contractual Relations

The Case: Trau-Med of America, Inc. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 71 S.W.3d 691 (Tenn. 2002). Author: Justice William M. Barker

Why it is a Blue Chipper: Trua-Med is the first Tennessee case to recognize a common law cause of action for intentional interference with contractual relations. To reach that result the Court overruled Nelson v. Martin, 958 S.W.2d 653 (Tenn. 1997).

The case:  Lavin v. Jordon, 16 S.W.3d 362 (Tenn. 2000).  Author:  Justice William M. Barker.

Why it is a Blue Chipper:  Lavin v. Jordan is the leading case on the liability of parents for the willful or malicious tortious acts of their children.  It is important to note, however, that despite some rather broad language in Lavin the Eastern Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals has recently held that neither Lavin nor the statute referenced below are applicable in cases where the child negligently causes injury or death.

The bottom line:

The case: Jordan v. Baptist Three Rivers Hospital,   984 S.W.2d 593 (Tenn. 1999).  Author:  Justice Janice M. Holder.

Why it is a Blue Chipper"  Jordan overruled past precedent that misread the wrongful death damages statute and permitted, for the first time, a factfinder to award damages for the loss of love, society and affection in a wrongful death case.  It recogized that the value of human life exceeded the dollar value of the decedent to earn money.   The case allowed the factfinder to consider such damages when the deceased was survived by a spouse or children, whether the children were minors or adults.

The bottom line:

The case: Robinson v. LeCorps, 83 S.W.3d 718 (Tenn. 2002). Author: Justice E. Riley Anderson

Why it is a Blue Chipper: Robinson made it crystal clear that a standard of care expert in a medical malpractice case may not base that testimony on a national standard of care and that an expert’s testimony will be excluded if it based solely on a national standard.

The bottom line:

I have not posted any blue-chip tort cases lately. There is no particular reason for my failure to do so; there has just been a good deal of other information out there to post.

(For those of you who are new to this blog you can read about “blue-chippers” here.)

Today I have a special treat for you – two blue-chippers. Why? Because they really need to be considered together to understand the full impact on them in Tennessee law.

McCarley v. West Quality Food Service, Inc., 960 S.W.2d 585 (Tenn. 1998) is one of my favorite blue chippers because it is a double-chipper.

First, McCarley made it possible for a plaintiff to actually win a food poisoning case without having retained a sample of the product that caused the injury.

Second, and more important in the day-to-day life of trial lawyers, McCarley was the first decision to require that a party seeking summary judgment actually had to have some evidence establishing an affirmative defense or defeating an element of the opponent’s claim before the burden shifted to the opponent. After this decision, a defendant could no longer file a one-paragraph motion and brief and say “prove it;” instead, the defendant had to say “this undisputed evidence right here says you can’t prove it or, even if you can, this undisputed evidence establishes an affirmative defense that you can’t beat.” (Of course, either party can still file a motion on a pure issue of law.)

The Ray by Holman v. BIC Corp., 925 S.W.2d 527 (Tenn. 1996)
case is a leading decision in Tennessee products liability law. Start your products liability research with this case (right after you read the Tennessee Products Liability Act).

The opinion states that that Tennessee Products Liability Act provides for both the consumer expectation test and the prudent manufacturer test, latter of which requires risk-utility balancing in its application. Use of the prudent manufacturer test requires the determination of whether, after balancing all the relevant factors, a prudent manufacturer would market the product despite its dangerous condition. Naturally, a prudent manufacturer would consider usefulness, costs, seriousness and likelihood of potential harm, and the myriad of other factors (i.e. the risk-utility test).

I have already written about one blue-chip case in the field of negligent infliction of emotional distress. This case is the second decision to advance the law in the field.

In Ramsey v. Beavers, 931 S.W.2d 527 (Tenn. 1996), the court reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed man who saw his mother hit by a car. The court allowed him to assert a claim of negligent infliction distress, saying that its “holding today abandons the hypertechnical approach of the zone of danger rule and recognizes that in certain circumstances a plaintiff whose physical safety is not endangered may nonetheless suffer compensable mental injury as a result of injuries to a closely related third person which plaintiff observes sensorily.”

This decision helped Tennessee start down the path of recognizing that pain in the mind and heart is as worthy of protection as a pain in the back. That journey continues.