Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Summary Judgment in Tractor-Trailer Accident Case

by Mandy Hicks

Because of the disproportionate size and weight between commercial trucks and passenger vehicles, people in the smaller vehicles tend to suffer more serious injuries in a tractor-trailer accident.

However, as a recent case illustrates, truckers also can be injured – especially when both of the involved vehicles are 18-wheelers.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case heard by an appeals court in Tennessee, the plaintiff was a long-distance truck driver who filed suit against the defendant trucking company and others, seeking compensation for injuries he suffered when his truck collided with an overturned tractor-trailer that he was unable to avoid on I-40. Because of certain statements made by the trucking company regarding the cause of its truck being overturned, the plaintiff also named the owner and operator of a particular third truck as a defendant. Later, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the third truck’s owner and operator from the lawsuit.

The remaining defendant (the owner of the overturned truck) sought summary judgment, insisting that the plaintiff had produced no evidence that contradicted its version of the accident, namely that an unidentified truck forced their driver to run off the road and overturn. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to the defendant, holding that the defendant had demonstrated that the plaintiff could not establish a breach of duty or any material factual disputes regarding the accident.

The Ruling of the Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court first noted that summary judgment is only appropriate in cases in which there are no genuine issues as to any material fact. In order to survive a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party must come forward with “something more than the allegations or denials of [his or her] pleadings.” A trial court’s decision on a summary judgment motion does not have a presumption of correctness on appeal, since a summary judgment is a question of law.

In reversing the lower court’s ruling, the court found that the defendant had failed to prove that there were no disputed issues of fact with regard to whether its employee had exercised reasonable care. The court found that the mere fact that the driver may have been confronted with a sudden emergency (the unidentified truck coming into his lane) did not, in and of itself, excuse the defendant from liability. Instead, the sudden emergency doctrine has been subsumed within Tennessee’s comparative fault system; thus, the actions of the “third truck” were “simply part of the circumstances to be considered when determining” whether the defendant’s employee acted reasonably.

Talk to an Attorney About a Tennessee Truck Accident

Tractor trailer accidents can result in serious physical injuries – and even death. If you or a loved one is suffering due to a trucker’s negligent driving, the knowledgeable Tennessee truck accident attorneys at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley, LLP, can help you investigate your accident and pursue fair compensation. For a free consultation, call us at 270-781-6500. We serve clients in both Tennessee and Kentucky from our Bowling Green offices.

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