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Lack of Evidence on Value of Property Damage Dooms Tennessee Case

Where plaintiff only presented proof that his property was damaged during shipment but did not present any proof sufficient to allow the trial court to assess his damages, involuntary dismissal was affirmed. In Matthews v. UPS Store Center 3138, No. E2020-00255-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 25, 2021), plaintiff filed suit after his personal property was damaged during shipment. Plaintiff had taken a stereo receiver to defendant store to be shipped, and he purchased the packing materials recommended by the clerk. The store clerk packed the receiver, but plaintiff was later informed by the recipient that the receiver was damaged during the shipment.

Plaintiff filed suit against the UPS store and the clerk in general sessions court, where he won, but he appealed to the circuit court for a new trial. After plaintiff closed his proof, defendants moved for dismissal, which the trial court granted and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The trial court granted dismissal based on plaintiff’s failure to present sufficient proof of his damages. Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by excluding two affidavits from the recipient of the damaged package, as well as photographs of the damaged receiver. Without ruling on the admissibility of the excluded evidence, the Court ruled that dismissal was appropriate here. The Court explained:

[Plaintiff] sought compensation for the damaged stereo receiver. One way to measure property damage is the cost to repair the property item plus any loss of use during the repair period. Or damages can sometimes be measured by the difference in the fair market value of the property immediately before (and after) the incident. For either measure, it was [plaintiff’s] responsibility to lay a sufficient foundation to allow the trier of fact to make a fair and reasonable assessment of damages. Nothing in the record provided a sufficient basis for the court to quantify [plaintiff’s] damages. We agree with [plaintiff] that the owner of personal property may testify as to its value. But he did not do that here. This record contains no evidence of the difference in value of the stereo receiver before and after the shipment. Nor do we find any evidence of repair cost or loss of use. Nor did the excluded evidence shed any light on the subject. It merely supported [plaintiff’s] testimony that the stereo receiver had been damaged.

(internal citations and quotations omitted).

Because the excluded evidence would not have affected the outcome of the trial, the involuntary dismissal was affirmed.

This short, memorandum opinion is a good reminder that plaintiffs have the burden of proving damages, and proof that personal property was damaged without some proof as to the amount of damages is not sufficient for the court to reasonably assess damages.

NOTE: This opinion was released 7.5 months after the case was assigned on briefs.

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