Tractor-trailer accidents can cause serious injuries that require long-term medical care. In an April 24, 2017 opinion, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed a negligence claim arising out of a collision between two semi-trucks. The plaintiff in the case was a long-distance driver. He was driving on a highway in western Tennessee when he suddenly saw an overturned tractor-trailer, which was blocking both lanes of the highway. Unable to stop or avoid the obstacle, the plaintiff collided with the overturned vehicle. The plaintiff brought suit against the owner of the overturned truck, alleging that its employee’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff could not establish that its employee failed to exercise reasonable care. The defendant’s motion was supported by sworn affidavits of its employee and an accident reconstructionist. The affidavits stated that the employee was not speeding and that he had exited the roadway to avoid a collision with an unidentified driver, but as he attempted to re-enter the roadway, his tractor-trailer overturned. The circuit court granted the motion, finding that the plaintiff did not provide any evidence to dispute the employee’s testimony. The plaintiff appealed the matter to the higher court.
A negligence claim requires proof of five elements: (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) conduct below the applicable standard of care that amounts to a breach of that duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) cause in fact; and (5) proximate, or legal, cause. In Tennessee, all drivers have a duty to act with reasonable care to avoid foreseeable injuries to others. Whether a driver has exercised reasonable care is evaluated in light of the circumstances, and it will vary according to the risk involved in a particular situation. The sudden emergency doctrine is a legal concept that recognizes that a person confronted with a sudden or unexpected emergency calling for immediate action is not expected to exercise the same accuracy of judgment as someone acting under normal circumstances, who has time for reflection and thought before acting.
On appeal, the court explained that when evaluating whether the employee had used reasonable care, the fact that he may have been confronted with a sudden emergency, such as a vehicle unexpectedly entering his lane of travel, did not excuse him from liability. Instead, the court concluded that the actions of the third vehicle were simply part of the circumstances to be considered when determining whether the defendant’s employee acted reasonably. Accordingly, since a jury could differ as to whether the employee acted reasonably under the circumstances he described in his affidavit, the court held that summary judgment was inappropriate.
The accident attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard provide trusted legal representation to residents of Nashville and beyond. Our dedicated legal team has helped people pursue compensation from careless defendants in truck accident cases, premises liability claims, wrongful death actions, and more. If you have been hurt in a car or truck accident, schedule a consultation with one of our negligence lawyers to discuss your options. Contact Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard at (615) 800-7096 or online.