Articles Posted in Damages

In Kempson v. Casey, No. E2015-02184-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2016), the Court of Appeals vacated a jury’s finding of no damages for a plaintiff who presented uncontroverted expert proof regarding injuries he alleged to have sustained in a car accident.

Plaintiff was rear-ended by defendant when he was sitting in traffic on the interstate. Although defendant did not deny that the collision occurred, the parties had vastly different accounts of what happened. Plaintiff alleged that defendant was going around 50 miles per hour when she hit him, that his car was knocked forward 5-6 car lengths (but that he did not hit the vehicles in front of him), and that after the accident defendant had blood going down her leg. Defendant, on the other hand, testified that she was driving between 10 and 15 miles per hour at the time of the collision, that the impact was “minor,” that her airbag did not deploy, and that she did not bleed. Both parties agreed that both vehicles were driven away from the scene.

Plaintiff sued for negligence, asserting that “as a result of the accident, [he] began experiencing intractable neck and low back pain that ultimately necessitated” surgery. In support of his claims, plaintiff presented testimony from his surgeon and his chiropractor. Both of these experts testified that plaintiff had “preexisting complaints related to his cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine,” and that his “post-accident complaints were similar to his pre-accident complaints.” The surgeon testified, though, that in his opinion “the accident at issue caused [plaintiff’s] medical condition to worsen to the point that surgery was necessary.”

In Hamilton v. Holderman, No. M2015-02302-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2015), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed a damages award in a conversion case.

In the underlying dispute, plaintiffs had rented a furnished house and barn to defendants, which the defendants argued they had orally agreed to buy. Plaintiffs filed a forcible entry and detainer warrant in general sessions court, and defendants eventually vacated the property. When defendants left, they took “certain furnishings and other personalty owned by [plaintiffs]” with them, and this suit for conversion followed.

Plaintiffs initially filed in general sessions court and were awarded $24,999 in damages, the full jurisdictional limit. Defendants appealed to circuit court, where a jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs in the amount of $40,000. Defendants appealed that verdict to the Court of Appeals, arguing that there was not “material evidence in the record to support the jury’s verdict of damages for $40,000.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the award.

In Haynes v. Bass, No. W2015-01192-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 9, 2016), plaintiff brought suit against her ex-husband, a mortgage company, a title company and an attorney claiming she suffered damage when a home that was supposed to be titled to her alone was sold at auction. Plaintiff and defendant ex-husband had previously been married, and in December 2007 they executed a postnuptial agreement stating that, once another property sold which was already under contract, a residence in Collierville that was being purchased by plaintiff would be plaintiff’s “sole and separate property.” After the sale, however, the money was split between the husband and wife and the deeds were allegedly not recorded as planned in the agreement. Plaintiff alleged that her name was forged on the deeds of trust for the property.

In 2014, the couple got divorced in Arkansas. During the divorce proceeding, plaintiff was supposed to be paying the mortgage on the residence, as she was living in it alone, but it was discovered that she had failed to pay and owed $51,000. The Arkansas court entered an order holding plaintiff in contempt for failing to pay the mortgage and stating that plaintiff could pay defendant husband $55,000 or the property would be sold by a receiver at auction. After plaintiff failed to pay, the residence was sold, and plaintiff filed suit seeking damages for the loss of the property.

In this Tennessee action, plaintiff brought several claims, including fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence and civil conspiracy. The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint in total for failure to state a claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Against her ex-husband, plaintiff advanced claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation, among other contract-based claims. Both of these causes of actions, though, require the plaintiff to suffer damages due to the misrepresentations. Here, the Court found that the evidence “reveal[ed] that [plaintiff] lost the residence, and the value of all of the improvements she made to the property, because of her failure to pay the mortgage, which resulted in the Arkansas court ordering the property to be sold.” Even if plaintiff’s allegations were taken as true, the Court held that “the allegations are not sufficient to make out a claim against [defendant] because the damages sustained by [plaintiff] are not related to [defendant’s] alleged breach of the postnuptial agreement.”

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Understanding medical billing and medical expenses can be quite difficult in today’s healthcare system, and courts across the country have been grappling with how to determine the reasonable amount of medical expenses in court cases. In a recent Tennessee case, the Court of Appeals declined to extend a Tennessee Supreme Court decision which held that reasonable medical expenses were those that the medical provider actually accepted as payment from an insurance company, as the Supreme Court decision was a hospital lien case and the Court of Appeals was reviewing a personal injury matter.

 

The underlying facts in Dedmon v. Steelman, No. W2015-01462-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 2, 2016) were that plaintiff was seeking recovery for injuries sustained in a car accident. Plaintiff claimed medical expenses of $52,482.87, and plaintiff provided medical bills and the deposition of a treating physician who testified that the expenses were “appropriate, reasonable, and necessary[.]”

 

After this suit was filed, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued a decision in a case about hospital liens, West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corp., 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014). Tennessee law gives hospitals a lien “for all reasonable and necessary charges for hospital care, treatment and maintenance of ill or injured persons[.]” The West court tackled the issue of what exactly constituted reasonable charges, in light of the fact that the amount a patient is billed and the amount an insurance company actually pays is often vastly different. The Court in West eventually determined that, “with regard to an insurance company’s customers,” reasonable expenses were “the charges agreed to by the insurance company and the hospital,” not the billed amount. The Court stated:

The hospital’s non-discounted charges reflected in the amount of the liens it filed against the plaintiffs should not be considered reasonable charges for the purpose of [the Hospital Lien Act] for two reasons. First, the amount of these charges is unreasonable because it does not ‘reflect what is [actually] being paid in the market place.’ …[A] more realistic standard is what insurers actually pay and what the hospitals [are] willing to accept.’ …The second basis for concluding that the [hospital’s] non-discounted charges are not reasonable stems from its contracts with [the insurers]. The [hospital] furthered its own economic interest when it agreed in these contracts to discount its charges for patients insured by [the insurers]. …The [hospital’s] contract with [the insurers] defined what the reasonable charges for the medical services provided to [the plaintiffs] would be.

(Internal citations and quotations omitted).

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In Spires v. Simpson, No. E2015-00697-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 26, 2016), the Court of Appeals addressed an issue of first impression regarding the interpretation of a wrongful death statute related to a surviving spouse who has outstanding child support obligations.

In this case, decedent mother was killed in a car accident, leaving behind a surviving spouse and one child, whose biological father was the surviving spouse. At the time of the accident, the decedent and surviving spouse had been living apart and the child had been living only with the decedent. The spouse instituted a wrongful death action on behalf of himself, the child, and the decedent. When he instituted the suit, the spouse owed child support to children of four other women (though he did not owe any regarding the child at issue in this case because there was no court order regarding that child). While the wrongful death litigation was ongoing, a maternal uncle adopted the child, and the uncle petitioned to intervene on behalf of the child. Ultimately, the trial court held that Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-107(b) disqualified the surviving spouse from commencing the action or collecting proceeds due to his outstanding child support arrearages. The trial court substituted the child’s uncle as plaintiff and awarded the agreed damages in trust solely to the child. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed.

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Here are some of the most recent statistics concerning tort claims and trials in the Tennessee court system for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015:

  1. There were 9777 tort filings in state court, with 9695 tort cases concluded.  Only 339 of those cases were tried to a judge or jury.
  2. There were 356 health care liability actions filed, with 346 such cases concluded. Only 28 of those cases were tried.

In Jones v. Bradley County, No. E2015-00204-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2016), plaintiff sued Bradley County after she collided with a truck responding to a fire at a red-light intersection. Plaintiff had the green light at the intersection. Defendant, a fire rescue employee, was driving a Ford F-250 truck that was equipped with a siren and emergency lights. Defendant proceeded to turn left against a red-light, at which time plaintiff’s car collided with defendant’s truck, causing plaintiff significant injuries.

Bradley County relied on Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-108, which “provides privileges to emergency vehicle drivers under certain circumstances.” This statute allows emergency vehicle drivers to “proceed past a red or stop signal[,]” but still requires the driver “to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons[.]” While analyzing this case, though, the Court pointed out that that “[t]he obligation to exercise due care is, thus, not excused by the fact that the [emergency] driver is responding to an emergency call.” (citation omitted).

Bradley County further asserted that the sole cause of this accident was plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-132, which provides that “upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle making use of audible and visual signals…the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way.” The Court pointed out that, when previously applying this statute, the Court has “noted the requirement of due care when entering an intersection even under authority of a green light” and “observed that if plaintiff should have heard the siren or should have seen the blue lights flashing, she…cannot evade her duty to yield to an emergency vehicle by saying that she did not hear and did not see because she did not look.” (citation and internal quotations omitted). In response to this argument, plaintiff pointed to the County Rescue Service operations manual, claiming that defendant violated the portions of the manual that stated that emergency drivers should “slow to a safe speed at which a stop could be made, and insure that all traffic has yielded” and “change the siren mode” when approaching an intersection. Plaintiff further argued that the evidence showed that defendant did not drive with due care through the intersection.

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The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently vacated a judgment in a car accident case after finding that the “jury’s damages award [was] not supported by material evidence.” In Naraghian v. Wilson, No. W2014-02002-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 12, 2015), plaintiff’s car was struck from behind by defendant’s vehicle. According to plaintiff, she had come to a complete stop at a red light and was then hit. Defendant asserted, though, that he slowed down for the red light, but the light then changed to green and plaintiff began driving off, only to suddenly stop and cause the accident.

At trial, plaintiff presented evidence regarding her medical damages. Her treating chiropractor testified that “the treatments he provided were reasonable and necessary and stated that [plaintiff’s] injuries were the result of the traffic accident involving [defendant].” The total bill for plaintiff’s treatment was $13,440, and there was no real dispute at trial regarding the reasonableness or necessity of the charges. “Defense counsel did not submit any witness controverting the reasonableness of the charges that were billed, nor did defense counsel submit any proof rebutting the medical opinions testified to by [the chiropractor] as to the reasonableness or necessity of the treatment or as to the medical causation as a result of this accident.”

The jury found in favor of plaintiff and found her damages to be $7,831.67. Although the jury found defendant to be responsible, they also apportioned 44.58% of the fault to plaintiff, so her damages were accordingly decreased. After having her motion for a new trial denied, plaintiff appealed, asserting that “the damages awarded by the jury were disproportionate to the amount of damages proven at trial.”

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The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the constitutionality of the artifical cap on non-economic damages in tort cases should not be examined by the courts until after a plaintiff receives a verdict in excess of the cap.

The decision comes in the Clark case out of Chattanooga.   The trial judge in that case ruled that the caps were unconstitutional.  Tennesssee’s High Court said the ruling was premature.  The Order can be reviewed by clicking on the link below

From a practical standpoint, this means that a supreme court review of the caps is at least two years off.  Why?  Because that is how long it takes, on average, from a verdict to go through the entire appellate process.   It is possible that a case with a verdict over the caps is in the pipeline right now but I have not heard of such a pending case.   Please let me know via a comment if you are aware of one.

In Springfield Investments, LLC v. Global Investments, LLC, No. E2014-01703-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 27, 2015), plaintiffs sued defendants for intentional interference with business relationships related to plaintiffs’ opening of a Wendy’s restaurant in Cleveland, Tennessee. Defendants already owned and operated a Wendy’s in Cleveland, and in 1998 one of plaintiff’s brothers signed a non-compete agreement with defendants agreeing not to open a Wendy’s in Cleveland. A later “Clarification and Confirmation” document signed by the brother included that no entities he was associated with would open a Wendy’s, including Springfield Investments, LLC (a plaintiff in this case). The individual plaintiff in this case was never a party to the non-compete, and by the time that the pertinent events took place the brother signing the non-compete was not the owner of Springfield Investments.

In January 2010, plaintiffs began the process of seeking approval from Wendy’s to build and open a restaurant in Cleveland. Because it would be 4.8 miles from defendants’ existing Wendy’s, the restaurant chain’s procedures required defendants to be notified and have the opportunity to oppose the new franchise. Over the course of the next several months, defendants followed the standard procedures allowed by Wendy’s to oppose the new restaurant. At one point Wendy’s, using its own discretion, allowed for additional time for defendants to submit certain requests, but otherwise the normal course of action provided for in Wendy’s franchise guidelines was followed.

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