Proposed Change in Seat Belt Law Hurts Tennessee Accident Victims

Proposed Change in Seat Belt Law Hurts Tennessee Accident Victims

A proposed bill in the Tennessee Legislature would change a decades-old law that was designed to protect accident victims and protect the taxpayors.


Since 1986, the law made it inadmissible in court whether an injured person was wearing his seat belt.  This legal rule makes perfect sense if you stop and think about it for a minute.  Indeed, if a negligent driver causes an accident – let’s say, for example, because he was texting while driving, or perhaps because he was drunk – should he somehow bear LESS responsibility for his actions because the innocent person he crashes into wasn’t wearing a seat belt?


Of course not.

Partially at Fault in a Car Wreck in Tennessee?

Partially at Fault in a Car Wreck in Tennessee?

partially at fault, car wreck lawyer in memphisLaw FAQ: I was in a car wreck in Tennessee, and I may be partially at fault. Do I still have a legal claim?

ANSWER:   Maybe.

You can take comfort in the fact that “slam dunk” cases rarely exist.  There are 2 sides to almost every story.  Indeed, real life is never quite so neat and tidy.  Many car crashes are the result of a number of related factors, circumstances and events on both sides that – when combined together – cause accidents to occur.

For example, someone might have run a red light and pulled out in front of you; however, you might have contributed to the problem by speeding, or not wearing your seat belt, or not paying as close attention to the road as perhaps you should have been.  Thus, while you didn’t necessarily cause the wreck, you may be wondering whether your own speed or inattention may have increased the amount of damage or injury caused.

And so the question is: do you still have a legal claim for your car accident or personal injury?

Well, the answer is: it depends.  Many people are partially at fault and some of them are still able to recover damages in a car wreck case.

Doctrine of Comparative Fault

Under Tennessee law, a defendant in a car wreck case is entitled to point the finger at another person (or multiple persons), including the plaintiff.  In other words, a defendant can ask a jury to assign fault for an accident, either in whole or in part, to someone else.  Legally, this is referred to as the “doctrine of comparative fault” – i.e. the jury is asked to literally compare the fault of the parties.

In practice, this means that the jury will listen to all of the competing evidence and then assign a percentage of fault or negligence to each person alleged to have contributed to the accident.   The total of the percentages must add up to 100%.  The jury is then asked to affix the amount of total damages suffered/incurred.

These fault allocations and damage findings determine whether, and to what extent, a plaintiff is entitled to recover.  Specifically, the damages recoverable by the plaintiff are based on the percentage of fault assigned to the defendant.

  • Example: If the jury finds that there were total damages of $100, and the defendant is assigned 75% of the fault compared to only 25% fault for the plaintiff, then the plaintiff would recover $75 (75% x $100).  The plaintiff wouldn’t be entitled to recover the percentage of damage that he himself caused.

Modified Comparative Fault

Note also that Tennessee follows the doctrine of modified comparative fault.  This means that if the plaintiff is found to be  50% at fault for an accident, then he or she is prohibited from recovering any damages at all. So, even if you are partially at fault for an accident, as long as you’re not 50% at fault, you can still recover.

  • Example:  Using the scenario above involving damages of $100, if the jury were to find the plaintiff and defendant equally at fault (50/50), then the plaintiff would recover $0.

Pure Comparative Fault in Other States

By comparison, some states like Mississippi utilize the doctrine of pure comparative fault, which means that the plaintiff can recover for any fault of the defendant, even a mere 1%.

  • Example:  Using the scenario above, if the car wreck  occurred in Mississippi and the defendant was 1% at fault, then the plaintiff would be able to recover $1, even though the plaintiff was 99% at fault.

Partially at Fault But Think the Other Driver was Responsible?

Each case is unique. It sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. At Patterson Bray, we will look at your case and advise you on the best way to proceed. If you have a question involving a  car or trucking accident or a wreck involving serious personal injury, please feel free to call our office at (901) 372-5003 for a FREE consultation.

We Represent Victims of Car Wrecks.

Visit our website to learn more about our work for car accident victims. You can meet our team by clicking here.

Outrageous & Frivolous Lawsuit Verdicts – Fact or Urban Myth?

Outrageous & Frivolous Lawsuit Verdicts – Fact or Urban Myth?

Everybody has probably seen them at one time or another — The Stella Awards — an annual list of the most outrageous lawsuits. The Awards are named after Stella Liebeck, the lady who sued and won a multi-million dollar verdict against McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee on herself.

Some of the more noteworthy Stella Award winners include:

  • The woman who won $1.7 million from Winnebago after putting her RV on cruise control at 70 mph, and then getting up to go make herself a sandwich in the back. She claimed that Winnebago should have warned her that she couldn’t leave the driver’s seat after putting the cruise control on.
  • A 19 year old in Los Angeles won $74,000 in medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord while the teenager was trying to steal a hubcap.
  • A woman who was awarded $80,000 after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store, even though the toddler was her own son.

These examples are humorous, and indeed, the list goes on and on with other silly examples. The only problem is that ALL OF THESE LAWSUITS ARE ENTIRELY FALSE!

Even the underlying McDonald’s hot coffee case itself has reached unwarranted levels of urban myth-ism.  If you want the REAL story behind the case, click here for more info on why the final verdict in that case was actually quite reasonable under the circumstances.

Why do I bring up these awards? Because you wouldn’t believe the number of people I talk to who bring up these “cases” as examples of what’s wrong with our legal system.

The problem is that these wild misconceptions foster the type of false notion perpetuated by insurance companies and politicians who claim that there’s no rhyme or reason to our judicial system — which, of course, is the sort of “problem” that they just happen to have a government solution for.  How convenient.

Well, take it from a lawyer who’s in the trenches everyday: despite what you may hear — the concept of jackpot justice is exceedingly rare.  Are there occasionally exceptions and outlier verdicts? Absolutely. Just like there are times when clearly negligent defendants get away with maiming people.  But both situations are exceptions and hardly the norm.

Is the system expensive and in need of tweaking here and there?  Sure.  Just like everything else in life, it can be improved.

But good policy decisions aren’t made by throwing out the baby with the bathwater — and cutting off people’s legal rights in the meantime — based on urban myths perpetuated as fact.  That makes absolutely no sense at all.

So, don’t believe the hype.  Do your own homework before you fall hook, line and sinker for a story that sounds too crazy to be true.  Because most times, it isn’t.

Scalded Privates: The Short (But Real) Story Behind the Supposedly "Frivolous" McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit

Scalded Privates: The Short (But Real) Story Behind the Supposedly “Frivolous” McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit

“Can you believe it?  Some lady got millions for burning herself with her own hot coffee from McDonald’s!” 

You’ve no doubt heard all the talk before.  The case has become the poster child for so-called frivolous lawsuits and politicians screaming for silly tort reform.  The verdict supposedly represents everything that’s wrong with America and the legal system.

Of course, there’s only one problem: the legend has outgrown the truth.

As Paul Harvey used to say: “And now, here’s the rest of the story.”

  • The plaintiff was Ms. Stella Liebeck.  She was a grandmother who attempted multiple times to settle her case with McDonald’s.  They refused.
  • She wasn’t driving down the street when she got burned.  She was a passenger in a stopped vehicle.  They had ordered coffee at the drive-thru window.  After receiving the order, her grandson pulled his car forward and stopped momentarily so that she could add cream and sugar. The coffee spilled when she was attempting to remove that hard plastic lid from the little cheap styrofoam cup.
  • The coffee wasn’t just hot — it was scalding.  Indeed, it was discovered during the case that McDonald’s actively enforced a requirement that its restaurants keep coffee at 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit — only a few degrees away from the boiling point! By comparison, home coffee makers generally maintain coffee at 135-140 degrees.
  • Notwithstanding, a McDonald’s’ quality assurance manager testified that the company enforced the 185 degree requirement even thought they knew a burn hazard existed with any food substance greater than 140 degrees, and that it was not fit for human consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat, and cause full thickness burn injuries to the skin in only 2-7 seconds.
  • In fact, McDonald’s produced documents showing that there were more than 700 other claims by other people similarly burned by its coffee over a 10- year-period. McDonald’s quite clearly knew the risk involved and simply chose to ignore it.
  • Ms. Liebeck’s injuries were legitimate.  In fact, they were horrendous.  Her vascular surgeon determined that she suffered full thickness burns (3rd degree burns) over 6 percent of her body — including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. (See the photo below if you have a strong enough stomach.)
  • She was hospitalized for 8 days, during which time she underwent skin grafts in her genital area.
  • Despite these grotesque injuries, Ms. Liebeck merely asked McDonald’s to pay for the cost of her medical treatment, and offered to settle the case for only $20,000. They refused.
  • At the end of the day, this wasn’t a runaway jury.  Indeed, Ms. Liebeck was only awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages. And even this amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Ms. Liebeck 20 percent at fault for the spill, and thus they made a corresponding 20% reduction to the damages.
  • Based on the evidence of past claims and McDonald’s conscious decision to ignore a substantial risk, the jury also awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages.  The idea behind punitive damages is to make sure the defendant is properly motivated to change its conduct by taking into account the fact that there were other instances of egregious damages for which they might have escaped appropriate responsibility. And even then, the $2.7 million punitive verdict only equaled about 2 days of coffee sales at McDonald’s.  2 whole days.
  • And the court reduced even that amount to only $480,000.

So take a look at the photo and ask yourself whether you’d willingly trade those injuries and skin grafts to genitalia for a mere $600,000.

No way.  Not me.  No thanks.

Doesn’t sound so “frivolous” anymore, does it?

Law Talk Series: The Legal Issues in the Sandusky-Penn State Saga

Law Talk Series: The Legal Issues in the Sandusky-Penn State Saga

I regularly follow the Litigation & Trial Blog of Pennsylvania lawyer Max Kennerly.  He frequently provides tips and discusses legal issues relevant to the work of trial lawyers.

Being on the ground there in Pennsylvania, Mr. Kennerly is uniquely positioned to follow and explain the Pennsylvania law applicable to the various civil and criminal aspects of the sordid tale of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State.  His most recent post summarizing the current state of events is a must-read article for those interested in understanding the saga as seen through the eyes of a Pennsylvania lawyer.

What is a Deposition? Law FAQ

Deposition victim attorney in memphis

What is a Deposition?

A deposition is similar to a witness testifying in court, except that it occurs in an out-of-court setting.  A witness at a deposition is referred to as the “deponent.”  A deposition usually takes place in a lawyer’s conference room, although I’ve personally been involved in depositions that took place in homes, hospitals, and even over the telephone.

It’s a chance for lawyers to ask questions and get answers from a witness under oath.  A court reporter is present to make a record of the questions and answers, which is then usually reduced to writing in what’s called a “transcript” of the proceedings. Sometimes a videographer will also be there to film the testimony.

Depositions are part of the “discovery” process of a lawsuit.  Each side has the right to discover information about the other side’s allegations. This is accomplished by things like written questions, production of documents, inspection of property, independent medical exams, and depositions.  Rule 30 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure governs depositions in Tennessee.

Do we really need a deposition? Isn’t it expensive?

A deposition can be expensive, but it’s perhaps the most useful tool in a lawyer’s discovery toolbox because it allows for real-time follow-up and feedback.   One of the most useful benefits is that, with some exceptions, it can be used to preserve and/or “lock in” crucial testimony.  A transcript can be admitted as evidence in court if the witness later becomes unavailable for trial (e.g. death, incapacity, outside the reach of court’s jurisdiction, immune from subpoena, etc.).  A transcript can also be used to impeach and cross-examine a witness who shows up for trial with a different version of events.

Depositions are Serious Business.

A deposition is a very serious matter with serious potential consequences.  Remember, the transcript may be used in court. If you are the deponent, you should treat your deposition as if your testimony is occurring right in the courtroom in front of the judge and jury.

Need a lawyer in Memphis?

We’d be honored to represent you. Call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.

Law FAQ: What is negligence? What is a legal duty? (Part 2)

Law FAQ: What is negligence? What is a legal duty? (Part 2)

In yesterday’s blog post, I listed the 5 basic elements for a negligence claim: duty, breach, injury, causation, and proximate/legal cause.

Today’s post will focus on the first 2 elements which, for the most part, comprise the most interesting and difficult issues that arise in connection with negligence claims:  duty and breach.

As noted yesterday, negligence is commonly referred to as the “reasonable man” standard.  Stated differently, you would be considered negligent if you took an action that most average people would deem unreasonable under the circumstances.  Moreover, negligence can be predicated both on acts of commission (e.g. running a red light) and also acts of omission (e.g. a chiropractor failing to follow correct protocols).

Basically, the rules of negligence boil down to requiring people to follow society’s basic “rules of the road” for reasonable conduct.  For the most part, it’s commonsense-type stuff.  The law of negligence is about reasonableness and balance.  It does recognize, for example, that some injuries are simply unforeseeable and/or sometimes unavoidable.

Stated in legal terms, a court considers the issue of legal duty in the context of what is known as “reasonable foreseeability.”  This means that if your conduct would create a “reasonably foreseeable risk of injury” then you would have a societal duty either to avoid the conduct, or to take reasonable precautions to protect innocent bystanders from the risk.  The rule is really nothing different than The Golden Rule that churches, mothers and fathers teach their children every day.

For example, will you be held liable for negligence if the brakes on your truck suddenly and without warning fail, and you wind up in a wreck?  No, because the risk wasn’t foreseeable and you didn’t act unreasonably.  However, what if your brakes had been acting up previously, and you’d almost been a wreck just a few days prior, and yet kept on driving the truck instead of taking it to the shop for repairs?  In that case, you would be negligent because you failed to take reasonable steps to protect others against a known risk of harm.  In other words, you would be deemed to have breached your societal duty to those around you, and therefore you should rightfully be expected to make good on the injuries and damages you unilaterally imposed on an innocent person.

Note that the law of negligence is a far cry from the daily dose of nonsense you get from both ends of the spectrum.  Indeed, it is NOT the type of automatic, jackpot money grab that the ambulance-chasing TV lawyers seem to imply, and that the so-called tort reformers would likewise have you believe as part of selling their grossly exaggerated claim that “the sky is falling with lawsuits.”  To the contrary, the law does not provide for automatic liability whenever an injury occurs.  Likewise, it does NOT impose a duty to eliminate each and every one of life’s many risks.

The law of negligence is simply about the common sense “reasonable man” standard which is very much akin the Golden Rule — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Stay tuned for more about the question of how the law determines the winner of a lawsuit when — as is often the case in real life situations — both parties are somewhat negligent.   This is referred to as the issue of comparative fault.  Stay tuned.

Law FAQ: What is negligence?

Law FAQ: What is negligence?

Negligence is the legal term for failing to exercise reasonable care and caution under a given set of circumstances.  It is commonly referred to as “the ordinary, reasonable man” standard.  Legal liability is assessed when a person fails to follow society’s most basic “rules of the road” so to speak.

Some examples of negligence might include:

  • Running a red light and causing a wreck.
  • A hurried doctor who fails to follow correct protocol and thus fails to diagnose a curable disease.
  • A nurse who fails to check the medical chart and who then dispenses the wrong medication.
  • A store owner who fails to mop up a known puddle on the floor.
  • A pharmacist who dispenses the wrong dosage of medication.
  • A contractor who fails to adhere to building plans or skirts building codes.
  • A child care center that fails to conduct background checks before hiring employees to care for children unsupervised.
  • A lawyer who fails to file his client’s lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.

In a negligence case, a plaintiff is required to prove five elements:

  1. that a duty of care was owed by the defendant;
  2. that the defendant failed to live up to that duty (i.e. referred to as a “breach of duty”);
  3. that an injury or loss occurred;
  4. that the breach of duty actually caused the injury or loss; and,
  5. proximate or legal cause.

More on these five elements tomorrow….

LAW FAQ: I was hurt at work in a freak accident that wasn’t really anybody’s fault. Does that mean I can’t get work comp benefits?

LAW FAQ: I was hurt at work in a freak accident that wasn’t really anybody’s fault. Does that mean I can’t get work comp benefits?

I got hurt on the job and it’s getting tough to pay the bills because I haven’t been able to work for a few weeks.  I need some help, but my injury was a freak accident that wasn’t really anybody’s fault. Does that mean I can’t get work comp benefits?

No.  Work comp benefits are available regardless of fault or negligence.  In fact, you can receive work comp benefits even if a workplace accident is due to your own mistake.

That may or may not seem fair that employers are liable for claims regardless of fault; however, most employers are required by law to carry work comp insurance to cover such claims.  Plus, there’s a trade off at play here.  There are inherent risks involved with working, and the employer creates, controls and ultimately benefits from the work environment.  Moreover, in exchange for covering all workplace injuries without regard to fault, the law provides a more limited amount of damages that may be recovered in the work comp scenario compared to a “normal” injury claim.

If you require help with an on the job injury claim, please call (901-372-5003) or Email us with questions and/or a free consultation.

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Be careful what you ask for at the Chiropractor

Be careful what you ask for at the Chiropractor

Many people visit the chiropractor for an alternative treatment to many issues ranging from back pain and headaches to allergies and fatigue. An experienced chiropractor will spend time determining why someone is experiencing such poor health and offer a treatment regimen designed to address those specific symptoms.  The examination will likely include x-rays and the treatment may involve spinal manipulation. Spinal misalignments can be a major cause of a person’s pain and spinal manipulations are designed to address these problems.

While millions of folks successfully visit their chiropractor on a regular basis for the maintenance of their good health, there are those instances when things can and do go very wrong.

One serious complication that can occur after spinal manipulation is a stroke.  Manipulations of the cervical region of the neck/back can cause a pinching or tearing of the arteries that feed blood to the brain.   If an artery to the brain becomes blocked or ruptures by a clot that has been stretched or from a rotation of the cervical spine, this could lead to a stroke.

As most people know, a stroke can be very serious health concern. It can lead to long-term brain damage, debilitating muscle weakness and even death. If you are experiencing any symptoms after a chiropractic visit, please let your doctor know immediately.

Symptoms include: weakness, sudden numbness or paralysis on one side of your body including your face; dizziness, loss of balance and coordination; stiff neck and pain around your eyes; vomiting, severe headache and difficulty with speaking or writing; confusion, memory problems, spacial and perception issues.

Also, remember that there could be a delay of many days between your chiropractic visit and the onset of symptoms.

Fortunately, strokes are a rare complication from chiropractic manipulations.  However, they do occur, especially during those occasions when a chiropractor doesn’t use the appropriate amount of force or has the patient in the wrong  position during his treatment.

If you have discovered that you could be the victim of chiropractic malpractice you need to speak to an attorney to understand your legal rights.  Our attorneys have extensive experience representing individuals injured during chiropractic procedures gone wrong.  Call us to see if we can help you.