Tennessee Court Discusses Requirements for Surviving Summary Judgment in Deadly Car Accident Case

Trial preparation and timely procurement of experts and evidence are a necessary part of bringing a personal injury claim. Plaintiffs who fail to actively prosecute their claim risk losing a summary judgment motion against them, as in Denton v. Taylor (Tenn. Ct. App. July 25, 2016). In Denton, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries after a head-on car accident that resulted in the death of the other driver. The plaintiff brought a negligence action against the decedent’s widow and estate. Some 15 months after filing the complaint, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s evidence was insufficient to establish causation. The plaintiff responded with a motion asking the trial court for more time to obtain and file an accident reconstruction report. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion and granted summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals of Tennessee.

In Denton, there were no witnesses to the accident. The plaintiff had no memory of the accident, and the decedent was pronounced dead at the scene. The deputy investigating the collision stated that he had examined, photographed, and mapped the accident scene, but he was not able to determine the point of impact. However, a toxicology report indicated that there were prescription pain medication in the decedent’s system.

Under Tennessee law, when the party moving for summary judgment does not bear the burden of proof at trial, as in Denton, he must affirmatively negate an essential element of the plaintiff’s claim or demonstrate that the plaintiff’s evidence at the summary judgment stage is insufficient to establish his claim. The plaintiff must then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that could lead a jury to find in his favor. The plaintiff may also attempt to deflect a summary judgment by submitting an affidavit requesting additional time for discovery. Under Rule 56.07, the affidavit must explain why the plaintiff has not been able to obtain and present the evidence needed to oppose the summary judgment motion.

The Denton plaintiff did not file the necessary affidavit or explain why he could not obtain sufficient evidence to counter the summary judgment. Furthermore, the plaintiff’s request for additional time was not timely submitted five days prior to the hearing on the motion. Accordingly, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s refusal to allow the plaintiff more time to conduct additional discovery in opposing summary judgment.

The court went on to find that there was no evidence available to prove the cause of the car accident. The court explained that, although the plaintiff relied on the toxicology report showing the presence of hydrocodone and hydromorphone in the decedent’s system, there was no proof showing the causal link between the decedent’s condition and the accident. As a result, the court affirmed the summary judgment order.

If you or a loved one has been seriously hurt in an automobile crash, you may be able to recover compensation for your medical expenses and anguish. At MHPS, we understand that succeeding in a personal injury case requires experience and dedication. Our Nashville injury attorneys provide aggressive representation to victims of car accidents, slip and falls, medical malpractice, and other negligence. To learn more about how we can assist you and your family, call MHPS at (615) 800-7096 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Ready to Get Started?

You don’t have to face a legal case alone. Get the support and guidance you need to make informed decisions and navigate the complexities of the law. Reach out today, and let’s take the first step together.