Articles Posted in Comparative Fault

Where the trial court found in a bench trial that plaintiff was 20% at fault for a motor vehicle accident and the bus driver was 80% at fault, that ruling was affirmed based on the testimony of the witnesses and findings of fact of the trial judge.

In Cook v. Jefferson County, Tennessee, No. E2022-01537-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 12, 2023), plaintiff was seriously injured and totaled his car when he crashed into a bus on a foggy morning. The accident occurred in a school zone, and the bus was stopped across two lanes of traffic, blocking both lanes, as it attempted to turn left out of the school exit.

Defendant presented testimony from an accident reconstructionist who opined that plaintiff had been traveling 15-20 miles over the 25 mile per hour school zone speed limit when he first began braking, and that plaintiff was the cause of the accident. On cross examination, however, the expert admitted that, due to the foggy conditions, plaintiff would not have been able to stop in time to avoid an accident even if he had not been speeding.

Where plaintiff created issues of genuine material fact regarding the potential liability of various defendants in the death of his minor son, who was killed while drinking and driving, summary judgment for most defendants was reversed. Further, the Court of Appeals found that the question of whether the decedent was “at least 50% at fault for comparative fault purposes [was] a question not properly resolvable at this summary judgment stage under the facts of this case.”

In Benbow v. L&S Family Entertainment, LLC, No. M2022-00491-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 12, 2023), plaintiff brought suit after his minor son, who was 20-years-old, died while drinking and driving. Plaintiff asserted that various defendants were negligent in the course of the evening that decedent died.

Decedent was out with a friend on the night he died, and that friend was 21-years-old. Plaintiff presented evidence that at defendant restaurant the server carded the friend but not decedent, and then brought a pitcher of beer and two cups to the table; that decedent and his friend appeared intoxicated when they arrived at defendant bowling alley; that a worker at defendant bowling alley carded the friend but not decedent, yet provided a pitcher of beer and two cups; that decedent and his friend went to a bar after the bowling alley, and that at that bar decedent’s debit card was used to buy drinks; that the friend’s mother came to the bar and that video evidence showed her possibly buying drinks that were then given to decedent; that the mother helped decedent into a car to be driven home; that decedent and the friend ended up going to the friend’s house; and that the friend and his father got into an argument, whereupon decedent drove himself away from the house and got into the fatal accident.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to accept review of a comparative fault issue concerning the tort of negligent misrepresentation.   The issue:

Whether the affirmative defense of comparative fault is applicable to a negligent misrepresentation cause of action in which the conduct of the plaintiff constituting the basis for that defense also pertains to the justifiable reliance element of the negligent misrepresentation cause of action?

The case is Pryority Partnership v. AMT Properties, LLC, No. 2020-00511-SC-R11-CV.  Here is a copy of the court of appeals opinion in the case, decided on March 10, 2021.

Where one defendant in an HCLA case was not the owner or operator of the facility at which plaintiff alleged he received negligent medical treatment, and that defendant did not employee, train or control the employees who allegedly provided negligent care, summary judgment for that defendant was affirmed. Further, where the other defendant was added as a party after the statute of limitations had run, summary judgment for that defendant was also affirmed. In Waller v. Varangon Corporation d/b/a Varangon Academy, No. W2019-02211-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 29, 2021), plaintiff was a resident at a juvenile treatment facility when he reported to the medical personnel at the facility that he was having stomach pain and nausea. Nurses at the facility gave plaintiff over-the-counter treatment, but his condition worsened, and plaintiff was taken to a local emergency room several days later and diagnosed with bowel obstruction, which required surgery. At the time of this incident in 2016, plaintiff was seventeen.

The facility where plaintiff had been residing was owned by Varangon Corporation (“Varangon”) and known as Varangon Academy from 2010-2013. In January 2014, Omni Visions, Inc. (“OVI”) purchased the facility and the business from Varangon, and OVI retained the trade name Varangon Academy. As part of the purchase, Varangon and OVI entered into a management services agreement whereby OVI “agreed to continue to provide residential treatment and other services to juveniles at the facility,” and Varangon agreed to license to OVI a treatment model it had developed. Varangon also agreed to make recommendations on personnel issues, but OVI “retained final decision-making authority over personnel issues.” Under the agreement, “OVI retained ultimate legal responsibility, authority, and responsibility over the rendition of all residential treatment services at the facility.”

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Where plaintiff and defendant gave differing versions of a car accident, the photographs of the vehicles could be interpreted to support defendant’s version of events, and the jury appeared to credit defendant by finding plaintiff 60% at fault, the Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict and the trial court’s refusal to grant a new trial.

In Justice v. Gaiter, No. M2019-01299-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2020), plaintiff and defendant were involved in a car accident on December 23rd in heavy traffic near a mall. Defendant was attempting to pull onto a road separating two parking areas when the cars collided. At a jury trial, plaintiff asserted that he was sitting in traffic when he was essentially t-boned by defendant in the driver’s door, and that defendant’s car then slid down the remainder of the driver’s side of plaintiff’s car. Defendant, on the other hand, testified that a car had stopped to let him cross into traffic, that he stuck his fender slightly into the lane he was attempting to merge into, and that he was sitting still when plaintiff’s vehicle failed to stop and hit the corner of defendant’s car. The photographs offered into evidence showed “the scraping on Plaintiff’s car from the driver’s side door to the rear fender” and damage to the front of defendant’s car.

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Where the defendant in an HCLA case did not plead comparative fault, but during his testimony at trial stated that the reason he failed to take certain actions was because the nurses never notified him of the patient’s chest pain, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that defendant attempted to shift blame to a non-party and ordering a retrial.

In Kanipe v. Patel, No. E2019-01211-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2020), plaintiff filed a healthcare liability suit after his mom died from “an undiagnosed aortic dissection while in the care of [defendant].” The patient had been taken to the ER by ambulance on the morning of December 31, 2012, and after being seen by the ER physician, she was transferred to defendant, a cardiologist. Defendant examined the patient and prescribed medication, then left the hospital before lunch with an order that he “be called for questions, orders, or changes in [the patient’s] condition.” Defendant received a call from Nurse Crepo at 3:30 p.m, which proved to be “one of the most contested parts of the case.” After this call, defendant ordered medications for pain and nausea for the patient, but he never re-evaluated her. At 1:47 a.m. that night, the patient was pronounced dead from an aortic dissection.

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When an HCLA plaintiff was awarded a verdict for her health care liability claims and her husband was awarded damages for loss of consortium, the trial court correctly considered the plaintiffs separately for the purpose of applying the statutory cap on noneconomic damages.  FIRST PUBLISHED IN JUNE 2020.  SEE UPDATE BELOW.

In Yebuah v. Center for Urological Treatment, No. M2018-01652-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 28, 2020), plaintiff had surgery to remove a cancerous kidney in 2005. A CT scan was done four months after surgery, and the radiologist reported no signs of cancer. The radiology report on a subsequent CT scan noted a “tubular structure” within plaintiff’s abdominal cavity, but plaintiff’s treating physician “did not read the reference to the foreign object.” Seven years later, plaintiff required gallbladder surgery due to severe abdominal pain. During that surgery, it was discovered that a “part of a gelport device” had been left inside plaintiff during her 2005 kidney surgery. Plaintiff required another surgery to have the device removed.

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Where plaintiff presented a statement of undisputed material facts that called into question the check cashing policies of defendant, but that statement of facts was ignored by the trial court in granting summary judgment for defendant, summary judgment was reversed.

In Great American Insurance Company v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, No. E2019-00649-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 5, 2020), plaintiff filed a negligence suit against defendant in relation to checks that were cashed by defendant’s stores. Plaintiff was a Comdata customer and used the Comdata system to pay certain independent contractors. Using this system, plaintiff would request a code for a Comdata check to be issued, and the check would be printed by defendant Pilot Travel Centers, which was a Comdata vendor. Independent contractors could then retrieve these checks from Pilot stores.

From June 2010 to March 2011, an employee of plaintiff, “without the knowledge or permission of [plaintiff,]” presented 689 codes at Pilot stores and both retrieved and cashed the checks, totaling over $368,000. Neither the employee nor plaintiff were the payee on the checks, and she cashed the checks wearing her work uniform, but defendant’s policy was to allow the “person presenting the code” to cash the check and “did not require that the payee of the check match the identification presented when the Comchek was cashed.” The employee used the controller’s password to request the codes, and there was a General Manager at plaintiff company in charge of “reviewing and signing off on the Comdata transactions.”

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Where a plaintiff was running in the dark with no wearable light and was hit by a car while crossing the road, the Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict finding plaintiff 80% at fault.

In Golden v. Powers, No. E2019-00712-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 12, 2020), plaintiff and her family were visiting Hawkins County, Tennessee from Miami, Florida. Plaintiff went for a jog one morning while it was still dark, and she began by running in the same direction as traffic. When she decided to cross in order to run against traffic, she “glanced to see if any cars were coming.” While crossing, a car approached in the lane plaintiff was running towards, so she slowed down to let the car pass. She did not stop running, did not move back to the side, and did not turn around to check traffic. She was then hit by a car driven by defendant. At the scene of the accident, defendant estimated that she had been driving 50-55 mph, and the speed limit was 45 mph.

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Where a man being arrested was shot and killed after he went out of his home and raised a gun towards a police officer, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a GTLA tort suit, finding that the police department was immune from suit and that the suit was barred by the decedent’s comparative fault.

In Acree v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, No. M2019-00056-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 27, 2019), decedent failed to appear for an aggravated criminal trespass court hearing, which resulted in a felony warrant being issued. Officers retrieved the warrant the next day, and the warrant stated that “subject may exhibit paranoia and feel that officers are following him.” The officer serving the warrant also noted that “Decedent had been arrested three times in the past six months without incident.” Four officers proceeded to decedent’s home, and two went to the front door and two to the back door. One officer knocked and identified himself, and when there was no answer, he saw through a hole in the door that decedent was not moving. The officer knocked again and saw decedent move away from the front of the house, so he called over the radio that decedent was walking towards the back door. Decedent then “abruptly open[ed] the back door and raise[d] a firearm at” one officer. The officer shot once, striking and killing decedent.

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