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Tennessee car crash case implicates state in construction of intersection

Black and White empty intersection with crosswalks

By Kyle Roby, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP

At one time, a person injured by the negligence of a governmental entity was without a remedy, due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Basically a carryover from the English common law under which “the King could do no wrong,” the doctrine precluded a would-be plaintiff from asserting what might otherwise have been a meritorious claim against a state or local government.

Now, however, most governmental entities have consented to be sued through various tort claims acts. Such acts set forth the procedure for filing a claim, the statute of limitations, and the maximum damages that may be sought. It is important to note that, since such actions are purely statutory in nature, an injured person must strictly comply with all procedural requirements, or else his or her suit will likely be dismissed.

Even when all requirements are met, it is ultimately up to the courts to determine whether a particular claim is valid.

Facts of the Case

In case of Church v. Charles Blalock & Sons, Inc., the plaintiffs were the executors of the estates of two women (a driver and a passenger) who died in a car accident that happened at an intersection in Johnson County, Tennessee, after the driver failed to stop at a stop sign, and her car was hit by an oncoming vehicle. In various proceedings, the executors filed negligence claims against the State of TennesseeJohnson County, and the contractor who had constructed the intersection at which the accident occurred, asserting that the intersection had been improperly designed and constructed.

After the actions were consolidated in the Johnson County Circuit Court, the trial court granted summary judgment to Johnson County, and the executors voluntarily dismissed their claims against the contractor. The suit proceeded to a bench trial against the State, with the result being a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs with a finding that the deceased driver was 47% at fault and the State was 53% at fault.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The State appealed the case to the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, which reversed the trial court’s decision. The court concluded that the evidence at trial was not sufficient to support a finding that there was a dangerous condition at the intersection at which the executors’ decedents were killed. The court noted that, although there had been previous accidents at the intersection, there had not been any accidents since additional signs had been installed in 2009. Such signs were, according to the court, clearly visible and afforded motorists ample time to stop.

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ alternative argument that the trial court should have made a finding that the State was negligent in designating a “T” intersection instead of a merge lane, noting that there was testimony at trial to the effect that the “T” construction provided drivers with the best line of sight at the intersection.

For Legal Advice About a Car Accident

If you or a family member has been hurt in a car or truck accident, you need to speak to an injury attorney as soon as possible. To schedule an appointment with me, Kyle Roby, or one of other our experienced attorneys, call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley today at 270-781-6500 and ask for a free initial consultation. Many cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis, which means that legal fees are not collected until and unless the case is successfully concluded in your favor.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Statute of Limitations barred recovery in government case

“Modified Comparative Fault” Rule Bars Recovery in Tennessee Car Crash