Typically, governmental entities and their employees are immune from liability in Tennessee. Under the law, however, the employee of a governmental entity may be sued for operating a motor vehicle in a negligent manner while performing his or her job duties. In Jones v. Bradley County, a woman was apparently hurt when she collided with a County emergency vehicle that turned left in front of her against a red light in Cleveland, Tennessee. Following the accident, the woman filed a lawsuit against the County under § 29-20-202 of the Tennessee Code. In response to the lawsuit, the County filed a counterclaim against the injured woman alleging that she instead negligently caused the accident in which she sustained her personal injuries.
At trial, the emergency responder stated he activated the emergency lights and sirens on the truck he was driving prior to the traffic wreck. He also stated that he slowed the truck he was driving before entering the intersection where the crash occurred. It was undisputed that the roadways on which the motorists were travelling were both straight and the collision occurred on a clear day.
The injured woman offered testimony that she was traveling near to the posted 45 mile per hour speed limit as she approached the traffic intersection prior to the crash. Both the woman and her passenger also stated they were unable to see or hear the emergency vehicle as the woman approached the intersection with the car windows up and the radio turned on.
Following a bench trial, the court ultimately awarded the hurt woman $207,366 in damages. In addition, the trial court attributed 40 percent of the accident fault to the injured woman and 60 percent to the emergency responder.
On appeal to the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, at Knoxville, the County argued that the lower court committed error when it apportioned fault to the emergency responder despite that he was exercising the privilege of traveling through the red light pursuant to § 55-8-108 of the Tennessee Code. The County also asserted that the injured motorist breached her duty to yield the right of way to the emergency vehicle under state law, the damages award was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence, and the trial court erred when it refused to enter a judgment based on the County’s counterclaim.
The Knoxville court first stated it would review the record below de novo, but it would presume the trial court’s determinations regarding the facts of the case were correct unless unsupported by the record. After that, the appellate court examined the facts of the case before upholding the judgment of the lower court.
According to the court of Appeals, there was sufficient evidence offered at trial for the lower court to reasonably conclude that the hurt woman could not stop in time to avoid a collision. Additionally, the emergency responder admitted he had a duty to exercise “extreme caution” under the circumstances and he failed to utilize a siren option that would have made his whereabouts more obvious to other drivers. Similarly, the court ruled that the damages awarded to the injured woman were not excessive. Finally, the Knoxville court held that the lower court did not commit error when it declined to enter judgment in favor of the County based on the governmental entity’s counterclaim.
Because the trial court did not commit error when it determined the emergency responder was 60 percent responsible for the plaintiff’s car accident injuries, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, at Knoxville affirmed the lower court’s judgment.
The skillful lawyers at the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. are available to help traffic wreck victims in Knoxville and throughout Eastern Tennessee recover the damages they deserve based on the severity of their car accident-related harm. To discuss your personal injury claim with a knowledgeable Tennessee personal injury attorney soon, please call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657 or contact us through our website today.
Jones v. Bradley County, Tenn: Court of Appeals 2015
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