The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently affirmed a judgment awarding a plaintiff $90,000 in his personal injury lawsuit against the City of Memphis. In Turner v. City of Memphis (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2016), the plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident involving a Memphis police officer. The plaintiff filed a personal injury claim against the officer and the City under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, alleging that the officer had negligently struck the plaintiff’s vehicle in a head-on collision. After a bench trial, the court found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him actual and compensatory damages in the amount of $90,000. The City appealed the decision.
In Turner, the court was presented with conflicting testimony from the parties regarding the existence of a dog in the road that forced the officer to veer into oncoming traffic. The officer testified that while he was driving, he saw an object approach in his peripheral vision. The officer believed it was a person and automatically steered toward the middle turn lane in order to avoid hitting the person. In doing so, the officer struck the plaintiff’s vehicle head-on. The officer testified that after the accident, he looked back and saw that the object was a dog. The trial court ruled that the officer failed to establish that a dog or person was in the road on the night of the accident, and even if a dog or person was present, the officer nevertheless committed negligence in crossing two full lanes of traffic to veer into oncoming traffic.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in finding that the officer was the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries by failing to properly apply the sudden emergency doctrine. In Tennessee, the sudden emergency doctrine recognizes that when a defendant is confronted with an unexpected emergency requiring immediate action, he or she is not expected to exercise the same accuracy of judgment as an individual acting under normal circumstances, who would have time for reflection and thought before acting. The doctrine is not a defense to a negligence claim but, if at issue, must be considered as a factor in the total comparative fault analysis.
In reviewing the case, the appeals court looked at the evidence regarding the road where the accident took place, as well as the other evidence in the record. The court affirmed the finding that the officer was negligent in crossing several lanes of traffic to hit the plaintiff traveling in the opposite direction, and it upheld the judgment against the City. The court also held that the damages award was neither excessive nor unreasonable.
At the Nashville firm of Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, our personal injury lawyers have helped many accident victims bring lawsuits against negligent parties. We can provide experienced representation in matters involving premises liability, wrongful death, motorcycle crashes, and a range of other personal injury claims. For personalized legal guidance regarding your case, contact Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard by phone at (615) 800-7096 or online and schedule an appointment.