Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Cases

Where plaintiff offered only circumstantial evidence consisting of witnesses’ opinions of what might have caused a car accident, summary judgment for defendants was affirmed.

In Wright v. Doe, No. W2023-00084-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 17, 2024), plaintiff filed suit against a tow truck driver and the company for which he worked. During the underlying car accident, plaintiff was stopped on the right shoulder of the interstate behind a disabled vehicle. The tow truck was in front of the disabled vehicle, and though it was parked on the shoulder, it also protruded into the far right lane. While the tow truck was present, an unidentified driver left the roadway and struck plaintiff’s vehicle, injuring plaintiff, then fled the scene.

Plaintiff filed this suit, asserting that the accident was caused by the negligence of the tow truck driver. Plaintiff claimed negligence, negligence per se, and negligent hiring, supervision and training against defendants, all of which require “proof of both causation in fact and proximate cause.”

What is the consequence of a refusal to give an examination under oath to your  Tennessee automobile insurance insurer?  Your policy can be rendered void.

The facts.

Ponnapula was in a car wreck with Mr. Wright.  It appears there was not any liability insurance on the vehicle being driven by Mr. Wright.  Mr. Ponnapula made a claim against his own uninsured/underinsured motorist insurer, Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company.

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.

You have undoubtedly read about (and perhaps even used)  a personal vehicle sharing program (also known as a peer-to-peer car sharing program) like Turo, which allows you to rent another person’s car for a defined period of time.  Turo puts car owners together with people who have a short-term need for a vehicle.  Need a 2018 Porsche Macan in Chicago?  $312, unlimited miles.

But what happens if the driver of that vehicle causes a wreck?  Does the car owner’s liability insurance apply?  Is there liability on behalf of Turo?  Does the liability insurance of the driver apply?

And what if the wreck is caused by the driver of another vehicle?  Does the UM/UIM coverage on the shared vehicle apply?   Or will coverage be denied because the car owner received money for sharing the vehicle?

Where a car accident plaintiff responded to a motion for summary judgment by relying on his own deposition testimony and defendant’s interrogatory responses, the Court found that he had created a genuine issue of material fact.

In Arnold v. Malchow, No. M2022-00907-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 9, 2023), a pro se plaintiff brought a negligence claim against defendant driver and defendant underinsured motorist insurance company based on a car accident. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, finding that plaintiff’s response to the summary judgment motion was insufficient and relied only on inadmissible facts. On appeal, summary judgment was reversed.

Defendant’s statement of undisputed material facts stated that plaintiff did not see anything other than “something white” and that plaintiff did not see defendant driving her car before the accident. While plaintiff’s response to these facts included reliance on several inadmissible sources, he also relied on defendant’s interrogatory responses and his own deposition, both of which were admissible evidence.

Where there were questions of fact regarding how much mud was on a road and whether defendants were the cause of the mud, the Court of Appeal reversed summary judgment for defendant trucking company in a car accident negligence case.

In Sullivan v. Carden, No. E2022-01234-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 14, 2023), plaintiff had a car accident when he allegedly hit a patch of frozen mud on a rural road. Plaintiff filed this negligence action against defendant trucking company and its owner, asserting that “his accident was caused by Defendants’ failure to remove excessive mud they had deposited onto the rural road he drove on.”

Defendants were running a logging operation in the area. The access road to the logging site was gravel, and only the logging equipment touched the mud/dirt rather than the gravel. Two days before the accident, the logging equipment was loaded onto trailers and driven to another site. Plaintiff argued that defendants’ actions caused mud on the road to the extent that it created an unreasonably dangerous condition. Plaintiff had a witness who stated that he had taken photos of frozen mud on the road at the site of the accident, that he had seen mud streaming from the logging site, and that he had seen another driver slip on the mud.

The Tennessee General Assembly has modified Tenn. Code Ann. Section 20-1-119 to make it clear that the plaintiff gets the benefits of the statute even if the fault allegations against a nonparty are made by a uninsured/underinsured motorist insurer.  The new legislation, Public Chapter No. 294, states as follows:

Section 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 20-1-119(a), is amended by

redesignating the current language as subdivision (a)(1) and adding the following new

Where plaintiff and defendant presented contradicting credible evidence regarding whether all of plaintiff’s claimed injuries were caused by the car accident at issue, the trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion for new trial based on her assertion that the jury’s award did not adequately compensate her for her injuries was affirmed.

In Besses v. Killian, No. M2021-01121-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 27, 2023), plaintiff and defendant were involved in a car accident when they approached traffic on the interstate that had slowed significantly and defendant rear-ended plaintiff’s car. Both plaintiff and defendant were able to move their cars to the side of the road after the accident, and both drove their cars away and declined medical treatment after the police took a report.

Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that she sustained injuries including “a bruised right knee, a neck strain, a lower back strain, a concussion, and chronic headaches, including migraines.” Plaintiff sought damages for past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. Defendant admitted fault but challenged the damages claimed by plaintiff, asserting that some of the medical expenses and injuries were not caused by the accident. After a two-day jury trial, the jury awarded plaintiff $16,720, which included $12,270 for medical expenses, $3,000 for past pain and suffering, $1,00 for past loss of enjoyment of life, and no award for future pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. Plaintiff filed a motion for new trial, arguing that the jury’s award “did not adequately compensate her for her injuries and was inconsistent with the evidence offered at trial,” but the trial court denied the motion and confirmed the jury verdict. On appeal, this ruling was affirmed.

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Where the trial court found plaintiff 25% at fault and defendant 75% at fault in a negligence case related to a crash between a car and tractor trailer, the Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict for plaintiff.

In Kindred v. Townsend, No. W2021-01481-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App Dec. 7, 2022), plaintiff filed this negligence suit against defendant and defendant’s employer based on a motor vehicle accident. Defendant was driving a tractor trailer while employed by defendant employer, and she turned left at an intersection. There was contradictory testimony regarding whether the traffic light was giving a green turn signal, a yellow turn signal, or a permissive green light when defendant began her turn. Plaintiff was approaching from the opposite direction and was not yet to the intersection when the light for her lane turned green. She proceeded through the light without slowing down, and her car and defendant’s tractor trailer collided.

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Where defendant driver stated that the accident that injured plaintiff passenger was due to her swerving to avoid a wild animal that unexpectedly entered the roadway, and plaintiff “presented no evidence of negligence on the part of the defendant,” summary judgment for defendant was affirmed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

In Owings v. Owings, No. E2021-01330-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 3570880 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 19, 2022), plaintiff was a passenger while defendant was driving. According to defendant, she swerved to avoid hitting a deer that jumped out in front of her, causing her to hit two or three parked vehicles. Defendant was allegedly injured during the accident and filed this negligence suit.

During plaintiff’s deposition, he stated that defendant had “done what she had to do” and “acknowledged that he did not think she had done anything wrong.” Plaintiff also stated that defendant had told him that “something jumped out in front of her,” but that he did not see the animal.

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