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Articles Tagged with car wreck

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

Although the basic law of negligence is the same across the country – namely, that to be successful, the plaintiff must show duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages – there are some nuances of negligence law that are different in various states. Thus, the outcome of a particular case can vary considerably, depending upon the state in which the accident occurred.

For instance, under the law of comparative fault, there can be wide variations in the outcome of a suit based on similar circumstances, depending upon the state where the suit is filed. The state of Tennessee follows what is called the “modified system of comparative fault.”

Beginning with the 1992 case of McIntyre v. Balentine, a plaintiff may recover damages in proportion to a defendant’s percentage of fault in an accident, as long as the defendant’s fault outweighed any fault by the plaintiff. In cases in which the jury finds the parties to be equally at fault (or finds the plaintiff to be more than 50 percent at fault), the plaintiff recovers nothing.

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Car accidents fall under an area of tort law known as “negligence.” To make out a successful case, a plaintiff must prove four things:  1) the defendant owed him or her a duty of care, 2) the defendant breached that duty, 3) the plaintiff sustained actual damages, and 4) the plaintiff’s damages were caused by the defendant’s breach of duty. It seems simple enough, right?

Unfortunately, many cases are not as simple as they initially seem. Issues such as comparative fault – an allegation by the defendant that the plaintiff is responsible for some part of the accident – can quickly complicate matters. The resolution of such issues often depends upon the law of the state in which the wreck occurred. This Tennessee car crash case is an example.

Kentucky is one of about a dozen states that follow the “pure comparative fault” doctrine, under which a plaintiff’s damages are reduced in proportion to his or her fault, but he or she is still allowed to recover against the defendant for the defendant’s percentage of fault. In Tennessee, however, the rule is one of “modified comparative fault,” with the plaintiff only being allowed to recover if his or her fault is less than 50%. If the plaintiff is found to be 49% at fault, he or she can recover 51% of his or her total damages, but there is no recovery at all if the parties are determined to bear equal fault.

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Most drivers carry at least some uninsured/underinsured motorist protection, but many do not understand the difficulties that may arise when it comes time to make a claim under this coverage. Unfortunately, simply having an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist does not automatically result in a payout by the insurance company, even when the insured’s injuries are catastrophic or fatal.

Instead, the insured person (or his or her family, in the event of a wrongful death), must negotiate a settlement with the insurance company or proceed to trial against the uninsured person and obtain a verdict. Even then, the insurance company has a right to appeal the verdict on the grounds that it was improper or excessive. This is exactly what happened in the recent Tennessee case of Monypeny v. Kheiv.

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In Barnes v. Saulsberry, a man sued a taxi cab driver and the owner of the taxi cab following an accident on the side of the highway. The man was standing on the shoulder of a Tennessee highway waiting for emergency personnel to arrive following a traffic collision. While the man was outside his vehicle, a taxi cab struck a parked automobile. The parked vehicle collided with the man’s car, which then hit the man. As a result, the man allegedly sustained permanent and disabling harm.

About one year after the automobile accident, the injured man filed a negligence lawsuit against the taxi cab driver and its owner in Shelby County, Tennessee. According to the man, the defendants caused him to suffer numerous broken bones, ongoing pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and more. Following a jury trial, the man received a damages award of $1 million. After unsuccessfully seeking a new trial, the defendants filed an appeal with the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Nashville.

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In Boarman v. Grange Indemnity Ins. Co., a man was seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision when another motorist ran a red light and collided with his vehicle. Unfortunately for the injured man, both the driver and the vehicle that struck him were not insured at the time of the accident. Despite this, the man obtained a judgment of more than $90,000 against the other driver for his accident injuries. Since the at-fault motorist was uninsured, the man never collected the damages that were awarded to him.

About one month before the man was hurt, his wife obtained a new automobile insurance policy naming both members of the couple as insured drivers. Following the crash, he filed a claim for uninsured motorist coverage from their auto insurer. The insurance company denied the man’s claim because his wife rejected uninsured motorist coverage in writing when she obtained the policy. The man then filed a lawsuit in Daviess County Circuit Court against his insurance company to recover the uninsured motorist benefits he believed he was statutorily entitled to.

The man testified at trial that his wife was asked to obtain the same accident coverage the couple held with their previous motor vehicle insurer, which included uninsured motorist coverage. In addition, the injured man claimed that he was a co-applicant who did not reject his statutory right to uninsured motorist coverage, as evidenced by the fact that he did not sign the insurance policy application. Still, he received a copy of the policy and paid insurance premiums that did not include uninsured motorist benefits.

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