Tennessee Court holds that plaintiff’s bus injury case fails due to lack of evidence

by Mandy Hicks

Pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, certain governmental entities can be held liable for damages resulting from their negligence. In this bus injury case, the plaintiff won the first round, but a higher court overturned the ruling.

In order to succeed in such a negligence case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, that the defendant engaged in conduct that amounted to a breach of that duty, that the plaintiff sustained an injury or loss, and that there was causation (both causation in fact and proximate or legal causation). If any of these elements fails, so does the plaintiff’s cause of action.

Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Peters-Asbury v. Knoxville Area Transit, the plaintiff was a student at the University of Tennessee. Due to restricted mobility resulting from a previous knee injury, the plaintiff needed assistance to get around campus. The university contracted with the defendant to provide transportation for the plaintiff and others. On the first time that the plaintiff rode a bus operated by the defendant, she fell when she was getting off the bus. Her right ankle was fractured in the fall, resulting in substantial medical expenses.

The plaintiff (along with her husband and son) filed suit against the defendant in the Circuit Court of Knox County, Tennessee, alleging that it had been negligent in dropping the plaintiff off at an inappropriate and unreasonably dangerous location. An amended complaint filed later further alleged that the defendant had been negligent in moving the bus forward as the plaintiff was exiting.

The case proceeded to a bench (non-jury) trial, and the court found in the plaintiff’s favor, awarding her some $101,969 in damages (but declining to award loss of consortium damages to the plaintiff’s husband or son).

Decision of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

On appeal, the court reversed the trial court’s judgment, concluding that there was not sufficient evidence in the record to support the trial court’s imposition of liability on either of the theories advanced by the plaintiff. While the court was “not unsympathetic” to the plaintiff’s injuries, negligence could not be presumed from the mere happening of an injury or accident.

Notably, a video was presented at trial showing the plaintiff’s fall, but the quality of the video was very low. The plaintiff claimed that it showed the bus was still moving as she exited, but the defendant insisted that the video proved that the bus remained still.

If You or a Loved One Has Questions About a Tennessee Negligence Lawsuit

As this case shows, a plaintiff does not automatically “win” just because there was an accident or an injury. Instead, he or she has a burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was negligent. The experienced Tennessee motor vehicle collision attorneys at the firm of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley will be glad to explain the procedures necessary for holding a negligent party financially accountable for his or her wrongdoing. Call us today at (270) 781-6500 for a free consultation. We handle cases throughout Tennessee and Kentucky, including in Nashville, Springfield, Clarksville, Franklin, and Hopkinsville.

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