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Articles Posted in Tennessee Law

Most east Tennessee personal injury and negligence cases proceed under a theory known as “negligence.” In order to be successful in such a case, the plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant breached a duty of care that was owed to him or her and that, as a proximate result, he or she suffered damages that are compensable under the law (such as pain and suffering, lost earnings, or medical expenses).

It is important to note, however, that not all negligence cases involve physical harm or death to an individual. Property damage, too, can be an element of damages in a negligence case. For example, there may be a separate claim for property damage in a motor vehicle accident case.

Some negligence cases pertain only claims involving property, however. Sometimes, these negligence claims are brought along with other allegations, such as a breach of contract claim. When this happens, the plaintiff may receive additional damages that would not otherwise be available (attorney fees, for instance, are not typically awarded in simple negligence cases under the so-called “American rule”).

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Sometimes, the legal definition and the usual definition of a word are different. Take for instance the word “damages.”

In common parlance, “damages” means physical harm to a person or thing, thus impairing its value and/or usual function. If a car sustains “damages” in a collision, we think of this as meaning that there was an impact to the car that make it less useful (a smashed headlight and a damaged radiator due to a head-on collision, for instance) or less valuable (a $50,000 SUV may be worth only $10,000 in its post-crash condition).

However, there is a separate definition in the law for the word “damages,” namely the amount of money claimed or awarded in compensation for injuries suffered in an accident. This means that, when a jury awards “damages” of a certain amount, the court then directs the party against whom the award was made to pay that amount of money to the injured individual. It is important to note that, sometimes, there are limitations on the amount of money “damages” that can be awarded to the plaintiff in an East Tennessee personal injury case. One example is discussed in the case below.

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The requirements involved in filing an east Tennessee medical malpractice lawsuit can be very complex. It is, thus, extremely important for a would-be plaintiff in such a case to retain an attorney experienced in these matters as soon as possible after realizing that a medical error may have occurred.

There is a limited time for filing a healthcare liability action, and much is to be done in anticipation of the filing of the actual complaint. Seeking legal counsel sooner rather than later can help ensure that all of the necessary steps are completed in a timely fashion.

Facts of the Case

In a recent healthcare liability and wrongful death case originating in the Tennessee Claims Commission, the plaintiffs were the parents of a stillborn infant who was delivered in December 2017 when the mother was at about 29 weeks’ gestation. The delivery occurred at a hospital owed by the defendant state. The plaintiffs’ suit sought to assert claims for negligence and medical malpractice against several resident physicians and physicians who were employed by the defendant state at the time of the delivery. No claim was presented for damages to the plaintiff mother.

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In a typical Knoxville medical malpractice case, there is a long list of things that must be done before the case is even filed at the courthouse. It can take weeks or months to complete the necessary tasks in many cases.

Accordingly, it is vitally important to talk to a lawyer as soon as you suspect that you or a family member has been harmed due to a healthcare professional’s error. Waiting too long can seriously jeopardize the outcome of your case, as untimely claims will be dismissed by the court.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case, the plaintiff was the next of kin of a woman who died of acute respiratory failure after being a patient at the defendant hospital in January 2018. The plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of Davidson County in May 2019, asserting a claim for healthcare liability pursuant to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 29-26-102 et seq. In his complaint, the plaintiff averred that the defendant was “both directly and vicariously liable” under the principles of respondeat superior for the acts and omissions of its employees and agents. A copy of the complaint was mailed to the defendant on December 21, 2018, along with the notice required under Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121.

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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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No east Tennessee wrongful death lawsuit will be successful unless the plaintiff can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant breached at least one duty of care that was owed to him or her and that this breach of duty was the proximate cause of the damages for which the plaintiff seeks compensation. However, proving the essential elements of negligence is just one step in the process of asserting one’s legal rights following a loved one’s death caused by another individual, a business, or a governmental entity.

The reality is that, regardless of how strong the plaintiff’s case might be, recovering fair compensation in a personal injury or wrongful death case depends heavily on whether or not the negligent party was insured. Technically, the plaintiff can pursue collection on a judgment by attaching the defendant’s assets, garnishing his or her wages, and the like, but this is usually a very slow process and one that, at best, typically yields only a fraction of the amount of money to which the plaintiff was entitled.

Because of the power of the insurance company lobbyists, jurors rarely hear a word about insurance. The insurance company would much rather jurors believe that every penny of a judgment was coming out of the defendant’s pocket – the idea being that a lower judgment will result when a person, not a big insurance company, is paying the plaintiff what he or she is due. Sometimes, however, there are cases in which the insurance company is front and center in a lawsuit.

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An east Tennessee product liability case may involve multiple defendants and various theories of liability. In many cases, both the manufacturer and the seller of the product are named as defendants, and sometimes there are other potentially liable parties as well. Legal theories may include a design flaw that affected a great many products, or there may be an allegation that a manufacturing defect affected only a few products. Failure to warn may also be asserted.

As the case develops toward trial, it is possible that some defendants and/or legal theories may be eliminated through a process known as “summary judgment.” When a court grants summary judgment, it is essentially saying that a particular defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on one or more of the claims asserted by the plaintiff. Summary judgment does not necessarily end the plaintiff’s case, however, as there may still be viable legal theories remaining against a defendant (or multiple defendants) that have not been dismissed from the case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal district court case, the plaintiffs sought to assert a product liability action against the defendants, whom they alleged negligently designed and/or manufactured a heated throw blanket that allegedly caused a fire in the plaintiffs’ home in 2018, resulting in both personal injuries and property damage. As evidence of their claim, the plaintiffs submitted video surveillance footage showing, first, a bright flash from an area around the blanket’s control, and, over five hours later, additional flashes, smoke, and, eventually, a fire.
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In a Knoxville premises liability lawsuit, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff. Accordingly, he or she must have credible evidence proving that the defendant breached the duty of care that was owed to him or her under the circumstances.

Unfortunately, evidence of the proper owner’s negligence can disappear quickly. The accident scene may change when an employee cleans up the spill in which the customer slipped and fell. Video surveillance may be “recorded over” if not preserved. Even information about eyewitnesses may be lost over time.

Because of the compelling need to avoid spoliation of the evidence in a slip and fall case, it is important that the plaintiff seek legal counsel in a timely fashion. This can also help avoid the running of the statute of limitations, which is quite short for such matters in Tennessee.

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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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Lawsuits against governmental entities for the allegedly negligent acts of their employees can be difficult. As with other defendants accused of negligence, the government resists being held accountable in many East Tennessee personal injury cases.

Generally, the argument is that the employee in question acted reasonably under the circumstances presented and that the plaintiff was the one at fault. However, this is not always the government’s strategy.

A recent case against a large county school system was the “exception that proves the rule,” so to speak. In this case, the governmental entity insisted that its employee’s conduct was so egregious as to not be considered negligence, thus removing the case from the statute under which the injured party pursued compensation.

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