Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court
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In this declaratory judgment action, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court denying a claimant's motion to set aside a default judgment in favor of an insurance company and allow the claimant to intervene as a necessary party, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the claimant was not a necessary party and the trial court could decide the coverage dispute between the insurance company and its insured without the claimant's participation in the action. The claimant sued the insured for damages arising from an automobile accident. The insurance company sought a declaratory judgment that the company was not required to provide liability coverage to the insured. The trial court awarded the insurance company a default judgment. The claimant moved to set aside the default judgment and allow her to intervene on the basis that she was a necessary party. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the claimant had no interest affected by the dispute between the insurance company and its insured; and (2) therefore, the trial court had authority to grant declaratory relief because all necessary parties were before the court. View "Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. v. Debruce" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court in favor of Defendant in this wrongful death action, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Defendant was not liable for negligently facilitating the decedent's suicide. While staying alone in Defendant's home, the decedent, who was an adult, committed suicide by shooting herself with an unsecured gun in Defendant's home. The decedent's estate brought this action alleging that Defendant should have known that the decedent was potentially suicidal and that he negligently facilitated the suicide by failing to secure the gun. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the evidence was insufficient for a trier of fact to find that the decedent's suicide was a reasonably foreseeable probability; and (2) therefore, the decedent's suicide constituted a superseding intervening event that breaks the chain of proximate causation, cutting off any liability of Defendant to the estate. View "Cotten v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In this defamation action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court’s order granting Plaintiff’s motion to compel Defendants, a media outlet and a reporter, to respond to discovery requests to which Defendants objected on the basis of Tennessee’s news media shield law, Tenn. Code Ann. 24-1-208(a), holding that the trial court erred by granting Plaintiff’s motion to compel. As relevant to this appeal, the court of appeals determined that (1) a showing of malice cannot defeat the fair report privilege, and (2) an assertion of the fair report privilege exempts defendants from part of the protections of the shield law. The Supreme Court affirmed on separate grounds and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) neither actual nor express malice defeats the fair report privilege, the only limitations on the privilege being that a report of an official action or proceeding must be fair and accurate; and (2) the fair report privilege is a defense based upon a source of information that renders the source of the statements the plaintiff alleges to be defamatory unprotected by the shield law. View "Funk v. Scripps Media, Inc." on Justia Law

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A surviving spouse maintains priority to file a wrongful death action when the decedent’s child has also filed a wrongful death action in which the child alleges that the surviving spouse negligently caused the decedent’s death. The daughter of the decedent in this case filed a wrongful death action alleging that the decedent’s surviving spouse negligently caused the decedent’s death. The surviving spouse also filed a wrongful death action for the decedent’s death. The surviving spouse moved for dismissal of the daughter’s complaint, arguing that the surviving spouse had priority to file a wrongful death action. The trial court agreed and dismissed the daughter’s complaint. The court of appeals reversed, ruling that, under the circumstances of this case, the surviving spouse was disqualified from filing the wrongful death action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court properly dismissed the daughter’s wrongful death action because (1) the wrongful death statutes do not include an exception to the rule that surviving spouses have the priority to institute a wrongful death action when a spouse’s alleged negligence caused the decedent’s death; and (2) the surviving spouse did not waive his right to file the wrongful death action under the circumstances of this case. View "Nelson v. Myres" on Justia Law

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Charity Spires and Plaintiff-Appellee Kenneth Spires married and had one child, Uriah. A month after Uriah was born, Kenneth abandoned Charity and the child. Though the Spires did not divorce, Kenneth never returned to the marital home. Charity died in an automobile accident involving Defendant Haley Simpson. Custody of Uriah was awarded to his maternal grandmother, Constance Ogle, who served as administrator of Charity's estate. Kenneth filed this wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson and her parents. Ogle sought to intervene. While she acknowledged Kenneth was the Decedent's surviving spouse, Ogle argued he should be disqualified from prosecuting the lawsuit because he owed child support arrearages, and because the abandoned the Decedent and Uriah. While Ogle’s motion to intervene in the wrongful death lawsuit was still pending, a Chancery Court entered an order of adoption, permitting the Decedent’s brother, Captain (now Major) Dana Trent Hensley, Jr., M.D., to adopt Uriah. The adoption order terminated Kenneth's parental rights as to Uriah. Ultimately the trial court granted the motion to intervene, dismissed Kenneth from the suit and substituted Ogle and Major Hensley as plaintiffs. Kenneth appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that as the surviving spouse, Kenneth was not disqualified from commencing and maintaining the wrongful death action, notwithstanding the child support obligation. Because Kenneth was not statutorily disqualified from bringing the action, the Court of Appeals held that he was the proper plaintiff and that Kenneth and Uriah were each entitled to half of the settlement proceeds under the laws of intestate succession. Based on Kenneth's stipulation that he owed almost $72,000 in child support for four other children, the appellate court determined that his entire portion of the lawsuit proceeds had to be paid towards his outstanding child support obligations through the Child Support Receipting Unit. The Tennessee Supreme Court held the prohibitions in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) were intended to apply only to cases in which the “parent” who seeks to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit was a parent of the decedent child, and the child support arrearage is owed for the support of that decedent child. Neither statute was applicable under the facts of this case. Consequently, the Court reversed and vacated the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals applying Sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) in this case. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Spires v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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In this wrongful death case, the court of appeals erred by vacating the trial court’s order and remanding the case for further proceedings without reviewing the correctness of the trial court’s ruling on the decedent’s child’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 motion. The decedent’s mother, in her capacity as her unmarried son’s next of kind, filed this wrongful death suit, seeking damages. The case was settled and dismissed. Almost twenty months later, the decedent’s alleged minor child filed a Rule 60.02 motion to set aside the order of dismissal and to be substituted as the plaintiff. The trial court denied the motion on the grounds that it was not timely filed. The court of appeals vacated the trial court’s ruling, ruling that the Rule 60.02 motion was not ripe for adjudication until the trial court conclusively established the child’s paternity. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the judgment of the trial court, holding (1) the court of appeals erred by focusing on issues surrounding the child’s paternity rather than reviewing the correctness of the trial court’s ruling on the Rule 60.02 motion; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that the Rule 60.02 motion was not timely filed. View "Hussey v. Woods" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether a home inspector owes a duty of reasonable care to a homeowner’s guest. Plaintiff was injured when he fell from a second story deck that had not been properly constructed but had recently been inspected by a state home inspector hired by the homeowner. Plaintiff sued the home inspector, home inspection franchise, and other defendants not relevant to this appeal. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendants successfully negated essential elements of the claims of negligent misrepresentation and negligent inspection and that summary judgment was appropriate. View "Grogan v. Uggla" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court’s decision in West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corp., 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014), holding that “reasonable charges” for medical services under Tennessee’s Hospital Lien Act are the discounted amounts a hospital accepts as full payment from patients’ private insurer and not the full, undiscounted amounts billed to patients, does not apply in personal injury cases. Further, the collateral source rule applies in this personal injury case, in which the collateral benefit at issue is private insurance. Therefore, Plaintiffs may submit evidence of the injured party’s full, undiscounted medical bills as proof of reasonable medical expenses, and Defendants are precluded from submitting evidence of discounted rates accepted by medical providers from the insurer to rebut Plaintiffs’ proof that the full, undiscounted charges are reasonable. The Supreme Court thus affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals, which concluded that West did not apply to personal injury cases but that evidence of discounted amounts accepted by the injured’s medical providers may be admissible to rebut Plaintiffs’ expert testimony on the reasonableness of the amount of the full, undiscounted bills. View "Dedmon v. Steelman" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of rear-end collisions involving three tractor trailer vehicles. Plaintiff sued the owners and drivers of both of the other tractor trailers. The owner of the third tractor trailer was later dismissed on a directed verdict. The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff. The trial court suggested a remittitur of the jury’s verdict in all four categories of damages awarded. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reinstated the jury’s award for lost earning capacity, suggested a further remittitur to the award for loss of enjoyment of life, and affirmed the remitted award in the remaining two categories of damages. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the trial court’s rulings regarding a pretrial agreement between Plaintiff and the owner of the third tractor trailer; (2) affirmed the trial court’s decision not to give a special instruction on superseding cause; (3) reversed the court of appeals’ remittitur for the award for loss of enjoyment of life because the Court of Appeals had no authority under the circumstances to suggest a further remittitur; and (4) determined that it was unable to conduct a proper appellate review of the trial court’s remittitur decision. View "Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was whether a surviving spouse who files a wrongful death lawsuit was acting as a legal representative of the decedent and whether a wrongful death lawsuit filed pro se by the surviving spouse was void ab initio based on the spouse's pro se status. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, affirmed the trial court's denial of summary judgment, and remanded. The court held that the initial pro se complaint was not void ab initio, it served to toll the statute of limitations, and the trial court did not err in allowing the filing of the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial complaint. View "Beard v. Branson" on Justia Law