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Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Tennessee has a short statute of limitations compared to many states. Thus, it is not unusual for a person injured in a Knoxville car accident to have his or her case dismissed because it was not filed within the applicable limitations period. This much is to be expected.

What may come as more of a surprise, however, is a situation in which the party moving for the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case is his or her own insurance company. This very thing happened in a recent case in which the plaintiff’s uninsured motorist insurance company filed a motion to dismiss his suit as untimely because of an alleged defect in the complaint – even though the complaint itself was timely-filed.

Facts of the Case

In a car accident case that recently made its way to the intermediate court of appeals, the plaintiff was a man who was involved in an automobile accident on December 2, 2017. He filed suit on November 30, 2018, seeking to recover monetary compensation for certain personal injuries that he suffered as a result of the wreck. The plaintiff served a copy of the complaint against his own uninsured motorist insurance carrier, who was an “unnamed defendant” to the suit.

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All personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits are subject to a statute of limitations. The limitations period for filing an action is established by statute and can vary from state to state.

Tennessee has some of the shortest statutes of limitations in the country when it comes to lawsuits for, for instance, automobile accidents caused by negligence. Generally speaking, a person hurt by another’s negligence in a Knoxville car accident has just one short year to file a claim, or else his or her right to seek compensation is forfeited.

Of course, the one-year filing period is only a guideline. As the case discussed below indicates, there may occasionally be exceptions to the general rule, as circumstances can occasionally extend (or, sometimes, reduce) the limitations period, so it is very important to talk to a lawyer if you or someone in your family has been involved in a motor vehicle collision.

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One of the foremost considerations in a Knoxville personal injury lawsuit is whether the would-be plaintiff has standing to file suit. “Standing,” in the legal sense, means that the person who is seeking redress has a right to relief under the law.

This may seem like a straightforward question, but it can be a more complex issue than one might imagine. This is especially true in cases involving persons who have passed away.

Determining who has standing to sue on behalf of a person who, had he or she lived, had the right to bring a lawsuit against an allegedly negligent individual can be a matter of statutory law in some cases. It may also be resolved based on prior case law in some situations.

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If you have never been involved in a lawsuit involving uninsured motorist insurance coverage, you might be surprised to find that the insured individual and their insurance company are in an adversarial relationship in such proceedings. In other words, in an east Tennessee car accident case, to determine the amount due an insured person who has been hurt by the negligence of an uninsured motorist, the injured person is on the opposite side of the lawsuit as his or her insurance company.

Although the case may not be styled in the case of “insured versus insurer,” the reality is that the insurance company is the real defendant in the case because it is the party who will be paying out any monies awarded to the plaintiff. It is possible that the insurance company may eventually recoup some of these funds from the party that caused the crash, but a full recovery is unlikely.

Therefore, the insurance company effectively stands in the shoes of the at-fault, uninsured motorist during the litigation of the case and may assert the same types of defenses that the motorist could have asserted had he or she been present at trial. Of course, the insurance company may have a few defenses of its own, in addition.

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In cases in which a negligent driver was acting in the course and scope of his or her employment at the time of a serious East Tennessee car accident or fatal crash, the driver’s employer can be held vicariously liable for the harm that befell the accident victim. This is important because the employer is likely to have more financial resources (including a car accident liability insurance policy with considerably higher limits) than the at-fault motorist.

Obviously, the employer has an incentive to deny that the worker was “on the clock,” so to speak. However, simply denying the obvious will not go very far in avoiding a finding of liability for the employer.

In a recent case, both the employer and the employee (a father and son) denied that the employee was still acting on behalf of the employer when he crashed the employer’s car and killed a woman. Instead, they argued that the employee had planned to stop off and pick up a pizza, thereby deviating from his task and interrupting the chain of events that would have resulted in a finding of vicarious liability. Fortunately for the woman’ surviving spouse, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s summary judgment order and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Those who have never been involved in an East Tennessee car accident probably do not realize all of the possible complications that can arise as a lawsuit progresses from an initial claim filed against the responsible party’s insurance company to the ultimate collection of money damages via a negotiated settlement or a judgment in court. Because the amount of money that the injured party ultimately receives hinges in part on the amount of medical expenses that were necessitated by injuries he or she suffered in the collision, there are sometimes disagreements about medical costs, such as whether a certain medical expense was reasonable, necessary, and/or related to the accident. In some cases, medical providers themselves can become entangled in the litigation.

Facts of the Case

In a  recent case ultimately considered by the state’s highest court, the original plaintiff was a man who was injured in an automobile accident that was allegedly caused by the negligence of the original defendant. A collection service acting on behalf of the hospital at which the plaintiff had been treated following the accident filed a hospital lien in the lawsuit filed by the plaintiff against the defendant, seeking to collect the full amount of the hospital bill. Notably, the hospital did not file a claim with the plaintiff’s health insurance company. The second plaintiff was injured in a different accident and was treated at a different hospital; however, the same collection service filed a lien for the full amount of her hospital bill; again, the (second) hospital did not file a claim with the second plaintiff’s health insurance company.

The first plaintiff added the second plaintiff to his suit and added the hospitals and collection service as defendants, asserting a claim that the defendants violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977, Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 47-18-101 et seq (hereinafter “the Act”), by filing hospital liens under the Hospital Lien Act for the full, undiscounted amount of the hospitals’ charges rather than billing plaintiffs’ health insurance companies and accepting the negotiated discounted charges. The Circuit Court for Madison County granted the hospitals’ motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the first plaintiff’s claim and dismissed the second plaintiff’s claim for lack of venue. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the first plaintiff’s claim and remanded the second plaintiff’s claim to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim under the Act.

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In a Tennessee car accident case, the defendant is usually the driver whose negligence caused the crash. If he or she was on the job at the time, his or her employer may also be named as a defendant based on the principles of vicarious liability. Sometimes, however, the negligent driver cannot be identified. This may happen in a hit-and-run accident, for example. In these cases, the plaintiff’s litigation opponent may be his or her own insurance company, provided that he or she had uninsured motorist insurance. A recent case dealt with the issue of whether an insured motorist insurance company violated Tennessee law in its dealings with own insureds in such cases.

Factual Allegations

In a recent case, the plaintiff filed a putative Tennessee state court class action lawsuit against the defendant insurance company, alleging that the defendant had unlawfully charged customers a deductible in accidents in which uninsured motorists were positively identified and solely at fault. The defendant admitted that this scenario did happen to the plaintiff but denied that there had been a policy or practice regarding charging deductible in uninsured motorist cases. The defendant further alleged that it was justified in denying the plaintiff’s claim because he had failed to accurately report that he was using his car to provide ridesharing services.

After the state court lawsuit had been pending for some time, the state court allowed the plaintiff to amend his complaint to add a request for punitive damages. This amendment increased the damages at issue to the threshold for removal to federal court, and the defendant removed the action to the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. At the time of the removal, a motion to compel was pending.

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We’re all busy these days. It isn’t surprising that many drivers attempt to “multi-task” by making phone calls or texting while driving. However, any time that a driver focuses his or her attention on something other than the road, he or she increases the chances of being in a Tennessee car accident.

Statistically speaking, about three people lose their lives in car crashes in Tennessee each day. Far too many of these accidents are caused by distracted driving, including cell phone and smart phone usage. The problem isn’t just in Tennessee, of course. Nationally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that over 3000 lives are lost annually in the United States because of distracted driving.

Distracted Driving is Extremely Dangerous

A driver can be distracted by many different things – carrying on a heated conversation with a passenger, eating or drinking, and applying cosmetics or engaging in other grooming (such as shaving) are all considered to be forms of distracted driving. However, the usage of electronic devices – especially smart phones, but also navigation systems, radios, and the like – is especially problematic.

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Uninsured motorist insurance coverage is very important because it can be the only protection available to a person who is involved in an east Tennessee car accident with an uninsured driver (similarly, underinsured motorist coverage protects against situations in which the at-fault driver has some, but not enough, liability insurance. In cases in which coverage is triggered due to a defendant’s lack of coverage (or lack of sufficient coverage, as the case may be), the insurance company essentially “stands in the shoes” of the negligent driver. This means that the insurance company can offer defenses to liability, just as the driver would do under the same circumstances. An insurance company is an insurance company, after all, and the fact that its insured is on the other side of the suit does not change the insurer’s desire to limit the payout on the claim.

This can be very upsetting to policyholders who have been loyal customers, always paying their premiums on time and being careful drivers. What can come as an even worse surprise, however, is a customer thinking that he or she has uninsured motorist insurance coverage in place and then finding out – after an accident caused by another motorist – that he or she does not have such coverage.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiffs were a husband and wife who had previously lived in Georgia. When they lived in that state, they had $2,000,000 worth of excess uninsured motorist coverage, and their policy included a separate “line item premium” for the excess uninsured motorist coverage. After they moved to Tennessee in 2013, the plaintiff husband approached the defendant insurance broker and insurance agency about obtaining a personal umbrella insurance policy with the same coverage that the couple had in Georgia. According to the husband, he provided a copy of the Georgia policy so that the agent could help him obtain similar coverage in Tennessee.

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In an east Tennessee truck accident case, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. This means that he or she must provide proof sufficient to convince the jury, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant’s failure to act in a reasonably prudent manner was the proximate cause of his or her injuries. In most cases, this evidence includes the testimony of one or more physicians who are qualified to explain to the jury the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s physical injuries, treatment, and limitations. If the defendant disagrees with the qualifications of the plaintiff’s proposed expert witness(es), a motion to exclude the testimony may be filed. The trial court will then rule upon the motion, and whichever party is aggrieved thereby may eventually seek the review of an appellate court regarding the decision.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal court case, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendants, seeking compensation for personal injuries he allegedly suffered in a rear-end collision involving his van and their tractor-trailer. The defendants filed a motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiff’s treating physician and medical expert, arguing that the doctor did not state in his deposition that he was serving as an expert witness, the doctor did not examine any documents other than the plaintiff’s medical records and was not aware of any facts related to the accident, the doctor’s report lacked a method of reasoning as to his conclusion that the accident at issue caused the injuries complained of by the plaintiff, the doctor did not connect his experience to his conclusions, and/or the doctor did not take into account possible causes of the plaintiff’s injuries other than the accident.

The plaintiff responded that, even if the doctor’s report was “technically deficient,” it would not be appropriate for the court to exclude it because any alleged failure to disclose it was harmless in that it did not prejudice the defendants.

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