Articles Posted in Miscellaneous

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that it is appropriate for a lawyer to pay professionals who were fact witnesses in a commercial litigation controversy for their assistance directly related to case and discovery preparation.

In Trial Practices, Inc. v. Hahn, Loeser & Parks, LLC, the court addressed the issue of whether the disciplinary rules in effect at the time of the events permit a party to pay a fact witness for the witness’s assistance with case and discovery preparation that is not directly related to the witness preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings.  The answer: no – a party may pay only for assistance directly related to the witness preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings.

Thus, it was appropriate to compensation the lawyers and accountants involved (who were fact witnesses) for time invested by them in responding to discovery, deposition preparation, etc.  but not time in reviewing motions.

 

 

 

A defendant can be liable for nuisance damages even when the nuisance occurred on property that neither plaintiff nor defendant owned.

In Ryan v. Soucie, No. E2018-01121-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 18, 2019), plaintiff filed a claim for nuisance and intentional interference with business relationships after defendant blocked a right-of-way plaintiff used to access his business. Plaintiff operated a business on property that had been rezoned from residential to commercial in 1995, and defendant owned a home on property nearby. Plaintiff informed defendant that he operated a heat and air business on his property, and that he used a right-of-way over state-owned property to provide access to his supplier and his waste management company. Believing that the property was all zoned as residential, defendant impeded plaintiff’s use of the right-of-way by planting trees on it and parking a trailer in front of the gate to plaintiff’s property.

The trial court found for plaintiff on both claims and awarded him over $14,000 in damages, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

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Where a defendant (who happened to by a psychiatrist) knew of decedent’s past suicide attempt, knew he had just ended his relationship with her, and let the decedent stay in his home alone with an unsecured gun, the Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on a negligence case against defendant related to decedent’s suicide, holding that the “suicide constitutes a superseding intervening event that breaks the chain of proximate causation.”

In Cotten v. Wilson, No. M2016-02402-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. June 19, 2019), the personal representative of decedent’s estate brought suit against defendant for negligence, seeking to “hold the defendant liable for negligently facilitating the decedent’s suicide.” Decedent was married and had a son when she met and began an affair with defendant. Decedent was a nurse at Skyline Hospital, and defendant was a psychiatrist there. Decedent divorced her husband in 2012, but she retained equal co-parenting time of her son. Two years after beginning the relationship, in October 2013, decedent moved in with defendant, at which time defendant “noticed that [she] was having frequent crying spells and seemed to be struggling with eviction, job loss, and her new job not working out.” Defendant stated that decedent was “not as energetic and motivated as she once was, and on certain days she did not take care of herself.”

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Where a reasonable juror could have found that defendant allowed sewage to flow into a malfunctioning septic tank under plaintiff’s property for at least a short period of time after the issue was discovered, defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s negligence claim.

In Heatley v. Gaither, No. M2018-00461-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2018), plaintiff and defendant owned neighboring property that had been owned as one large parcel many years ago. Part of plaintiff’s property was “always damp and muddy,” and during an attempt to re-grade the area, plaintiff discovered that a malfunctioning septic tank with pipes leading to defendant’s building was located on his property. Before this discovery, neither plaintiff nor defendant had been aware of this septic tank.

Defendant’s employee “arranged to have the newly discovered tank emptied on November 4,” and he later stated in an affidavit that shortly after that date, the facilities that were connected to the tank were identified and not used anymore. The septic line between the two properties was permanently severed the following February.

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The taxability of Tennessee personal injury and Tennessee wrongful death settlements and judgments is governed by  Section 104 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Generally, compensatory damages for personal injury and wrongful death are excludable from federal taxation if they arise from personal injury or sickness.  Thus, in most personal injury and wrongful death cases arising from a personal injury or sickness, a settlement which includes only compensatory damages will not be subject to federal taxation.

One exception to that rule is if the taxpayer / plaintiff previously deducted medical expenses from her taxable income and then recovered those expenses in a personal injury or wrongful death case.  In such cases, the taxpayer / plaintiff would have tax liability because she had previously gained a tax advantage from the deduction of the medical expenses and then was reimbursed for those expenses in a compensatory damages award.

In a case based on an altercation that occurred while a worker was attempting to recover an unreturned cable modem, defendant cable company filed a motion for summary judgment with supporting proof that the worker was an independent contractor of a separate entity. Because plaintiff failed to respond to defendant’s statement of undisputed material facts, summary judgment was granted and affirmed.

In Mack v. Comcast Corporation, No. W2017-02326-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2018), plaintiff had an unreturned Comcast cable modem at his house, and a worker attempted to retrieve it. During this attempted retrieval, there was an altercation, and the worker was injured. Plaintiff was arrested, his mug shot was published and he lost his job, but the criminal charges were eventually dismissed. Plaintiff brought this case alleging various causes of action against several defendants, including Comcast.

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Attorney’s fees are not recoverable in a claim for trespass in Tennessee. In Perlaky v. Chapin, No. E2017-01995-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 27, 2018), plaintiff owned land on a mountain with easement rights to access the land by a specific road. When defendants bought property on the same mountain, they blocked the road by “felling 400 or 500 trees across the road, setting up a steel gate, and placing security guards at the gate to monitor access.” Plaintiff filed this trespass action, and the trial court awarded him nominal damages. The trial court initially awarded plaintiff attorney’s fees, but after a motion to alter or amend the judgment by defendant, the trial court vacated the award of attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

First, the Court affirmed the award of nominal fees. Because plaintiff had presented damages incurred by Raccoon Mountain Campground, LLC, but had filed suit individually, the trial court found that no actual damages to plaintiff were proven. Nonetheless, “even where no actual damages are proven, the plaintiff is still entitled to nominal damages,” and the award of $174.14 as nominal damages was affirmed.

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Tennessee law “grants counties that allow inmates to work on road details and other projects immunity from liability for injuries,” and that immunity overrides provisions of the GTLA.

In Trojan v. Wayne County, Tennessee, No. M2017-00415-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 23, 2018), plaintiff was an inmate in Wayne County jail and was working on a bridge as part of an inmate work program. While working, he spilled concrete onto his boots and feet and suffered chemical burns, which resulted in scarring. He brought suit against the county for negligence, arguing that immunity was removed under the GTLA. The trial court granted defendant county’s motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-2-123(d)(2) states that, except in very specific circumstances, government entities shall not “be liable to any prisoner or prisoner’s family for death or injuries received while on a work detail, other than for medical treatment for the injury during the period of the prisoner’s confinement.” Plaintiff argued that this section was limited to prisoners described in another part of the statute, a group into which he did not fall, but the Court of Appeals disagreed.

Where a pipe could be altered but the expense to do so would be “considerable” and there were no indications that any alterations were intended, a nuisance claim based on the pipe was considered to be a permanent nuisance, meaning that the statute of limitations was three years “from the time of the creation of the nuisance.” In addition, where a trespass claim involved complicated questions regarding water runoff and flow patterns and plaintiffs did not have a competent expert witness to testify as to causation, summary judgment for the defendant was appropriate.

In Ray v. Neff, No. M2016-02217-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 20, 2018), plaintiffs filed a claim for nuisance and trespass related to their adjacent neighbors’ installation of a pipe on their property. Plaintiffs claimed that the pipe was first placed in 2008, and that after extensive flooding in 2010, “changes to the pipe…modified the course of a creek” and caused water to flow directly towards their home, causing property damage.

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Where a claim for negligence against a bank fell within the parameters of the UCC, the common law negligence claim was preempted and summary judgment for defendants was affirmed.

In Mark IV Enterprises, Inc. v. Bank of America, N.A., No. M2017-00965-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 26, 2018), plaintiff sued defendant bank for aiding and abetting fraud and conversion, as well as for common law negligence. Plaintiff’s bookkeeper had embezzled money from plaintiff by taking checks written to plaintiff’s vendors and depositing them into her own personal account at defendant bank. Plaintiff alleged that defendant was negligent because the checks were not payable to the bookkeeper, many were not endorsed, and defendant bank had failed to safeguard against such issues when checks were deposited through its ATMs.

The trial court dismissed the conversion and fraud claims on a motion to dismiss, and granted summary judgment to the bank on the negligence claim based on its finding that the bank did not owe plaintiff a duty. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but on different grounds.