Where security camera footage showed that plaintiff pulled onto the road when defendant’s approaching vehicle was clearly visible, plaintiff was at least 50% at fault for the resulting car accident, despite the fact that defendant was going at least twenty miles per hour over the speed limit.
In Cryer v. City of Algood, Tennessee, No. M2020-01063-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 150854 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 18, 2022), plaintiff was driving his vehicle with his wife in the passenger seat. When he pulled onto the road, attempting to cross two lanes of traffic and a turning lane, his vehicle was struck by a police cruiser driven by Officer Ferguson, who was employed by defendant city.
Plaintiff filed this negligence suit and defendant counterclaimed, also raising the defense of comparative fault. During a bench trial, the evidence showed that the police cruiser was in the left lane and had just passed a black car that was traveling in the right lane. Security camera video showed, however, that at the time plaintiff began pulling out, the cruiser was visible on the straight road. Evidence also showed that the cruiser was traveling at least 60 miles per hour while the speed limit was 40 miles per hour, and that the officer did not brake until a short time before impact. Plaintiff’s wife testified that she was talking to plaintiff when he pulled onto the road, and that shortly before this she had told him to put on his seatbelt.
At the close of plaintiff’s proof, defendant moved for involuntary dismissal of plaintiff’s claims pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02(2), which the trial court granted. The trial court found that “no reasonable trier of fact could find under these facts that [plaintiff] was less than 50% at fault” for the accident, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
On appeal, plaintiff first argued that involuntary dismissal was not warranted here because the trial court had erroneously found that plaintiff had no right to relief based upon his own fault. In deciding this case, the trial court had looked at two other cases, both of which the Court of Appeals agreed were helpful. In one, the Tennessee Supreme Court had ruled that the speed of a truck that hit a motorcyclist was “insignificant” because the “immediate cause of the collision was the sudden and heedless entry of the motorcyclist onto the highway.” (Tennessee Trailways, Inc. v. Ervin, 438 S.W.2d 733 (Tenn. 1969) (internal quotations omitted)). In the other, the Court of Appeals found that a plaintiff was at least 50% at fault for an accident based on traffic camera footage that showed that the truck that hit the plaintiff was clear and visible when the plaintiff pulled onto the road. (Hall v. Owens, No. W2014-02214-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 7354384 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 20, 2015)). Based on these cases and the evidence presented at trial, the Court of Appeals agreed that “no reasonable fact-finder could conclude that [plaintiff] was less than 50% at fault for the accident with Officer Ferguson.” The Court noted that “the most probative evidence in this case [was] the video footage of the accident,” and that the video showed that while the officer was speeding, his “vehicle was visible to [plaintiff] when he pulled onto the highway.”
Plaintiff argued that the officer’s car was obstructed from view while it was passing the black car in the right lane, but the Court found that the video did not support this assertion. The Court wrote that “the video establishes that Officer Ferguson was clearly visible from [plaintiff’s] perspective when [plaintiff] began pulling onto the highway,” concluding that plaintiff “is no less responsible for turning in front of a clearly visible vehicle merely because the driver of that vehicle was speeding.”
Plaintiff also argued that the trial court erred in considering plaintiff’s wife’s testimony when granting the Rule 41.02(2) motion. At trial, plaintiff was planning to call the officer’s supervisor, but the supervisor was not immediately available and needed more time to return to the courtroom. Defendant suggested that they call and question the wife while waiting, which the trial court and plaintiff agreed to. After the supervisor was eventually questioned, defendant moved for and was granted involuntary dismissal, and the trial court mentioned some of wife’s testimony in its decision.
Plaintiff asserted that the trial court erred by “relying on testimony of a witness called by the Defense prior to the close of Plaintiff’s proof,” but the Court of Appeals disagreed. Rule 41.02(2) states in part: “The court shall reserve ruling until all parties alleging fault against any other party have presented their respective proof-in-chief.” The Court noted that it could not locate previous case law interpreting this portion of the Rule, but that the advisory comments stated that this sentence was “thought necessary in light of Tennessee’s adoption of comparative fault.” Based on the pleadings in this case and this comment, the Court ruled that “under the particular circumstances of this case and in light of the plain language of Rule 41.02(2), the trial court did not err in considering the testimony of [plaintiff’s wife].”
Involuntary dismissal of plaintiff’s claims was accordingly affirmed.
This case is important for two points. First, in a car accident case, the video evidence showing the crash seemed to carry the most weight regarding fault. Second, because comparative fault was raised by defendant, the Court of Appeals did not take issue with the trial court considering testimony from a defense witness when ruling on a Rule 41.02(2) motion.
This opinion was released four months after oral arguments in this case.
Note: Chapter 73, Section 22 and Chapter 16, Section 23 of Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law has been updated to include this decision.
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