Law FAQ: What should I do if I’m seriously injured in a car wreck?

Law FAQ: What should I do if I’m seriously injured in a car wreck?

We have a helpful list of DOs & DON’Ts in the Auto Accident FAQ section of our website.  Here are a few examples:

DO — call the police and be courteous to the other driver and any emergency personnel who come to the accident scene. If the other driver is confrontational or angry, then stay in your vehicle and wait for the police to arrive.

DON’T — move your vehicle until instructed by emergency personnel.

DO — report the accident to your own auto insurance carrier immediately. Our lawyers can handle this for you after we have been retained. (Click here to read more info about your own UM coverage, and click here for more info about not having to worry about your rates going up simply by submitting a UM claim to your own insurance carrier.)

DON’T — make comments at the accident scene or to insurance adjusters like “I’m okay” or “I’m not hurt.” A few days may pass before the full extent of your injuries are known or even felt, particularly with neck and back injuries, and your attempt to be helpful may be taken out of context.  Indeed, a common tactic for insurance company adjusters is to try to contact you shortly after the accident to record a statement before you fully appreciate the extent of your injuries.  Let your medical reports do the talking for you.

DO — hire an experienced, knowledgeable lawyer to assist you early on. While it is certainly possible to handle your own claim, the question is whether you are truly competent to do so.  Remember that insurance adjusters handle personal injury claims for a living.  They are trained and have considerable resources at their disposable to use against you, and their job function is to limit any payouts made by their company.  You may not even know when the deck is stacked against you, and you deserve a level playing field to make sure that you are treated fairly.

Smoke Detectors in Apartments

Smoke Detectors in Apartments


smoke detectors victim injury attorneyLet’s talk about the law on smoke detectors in apartments and rental homes in Tennessee. What should a landlord do? What about a tenant? Do you have a case? Below are questions some of you might have:

Q:  I own and lease a rental house in in Memphis, Tennessee.  Am I required to provide smoke detectors for the tenants who live in the house?

Q:  I rent a house in Germantown, Tennessee, and there was a fire at night.  There were no smoke detectors in the house, and by the time I woke up and called 911 the fire had spread so far that the firemen weren’t able to save anything.  What are my legal rights?

Law on Smoke Detectors in Tennessee

Under Tennessee law, a landlord must install and maintain smoke detectors in any residential unit offered for lease or rent.  Specifically, Tennessee Code Annotated 68-102-151 provides that it is:

unlawful to…[o]wn or operate a one-family or two-family rental unit without installing an approved smoke detector in each living unit; when activated, the detector shall initiate an alarm that is audible in the sleeping rooms of the living unit….

Law on Smoke Detectors in Memphis

The Memphis City Code of Ordinances  Sec. 14-4-88 further provides that

A. No person shall occupy as owner-occupant, or shall let another for occupancy, any dwelling, multifamily dwelling, dwelling unit, rooming house unit, lodging house or lodging unit which does not comply with the applicable provisions of the fire prevention code or the building code and other ordinances of the city and the additional requirements set out in this article for safety from fire.

B. Smoke detectors shall be installed in all residential properties in accordance with National Fire Protection Association Standard No. 74, 1989 Edition, and shall be maintained in an operable condition.

Memphis City Code of Ordinances  Sec. 9-44-6 also states that:

. . .  Smoke detectors are required…[i]n every existing dwelling unit within an apartment house, condominium complex, dormitory, townhouse or duplex….; and [e]very existing guest room in a motel and hotel. . .

*Other municipalities may have similar local ordinances.  The Memphis ordinances referenced here are merely offered as an example of additional law that may or may not apply to a particular situation.

smoke detectors memphis injury lawyer

What happens if a landlord does NOT provide smoke detectors?

First — a quick distinction.  There may be legal claims arising out of  how the fire originated.  For example,  there may be an underlying claim against a manufacturer for a defective product (i.e. appliance) that caught fire, or against a contractor for improper construction or wiring, or against the landlord or management company for negligent maintenance of the house itself.

By comparison, a claim for lack of a working smoke detector would be a claim independent of other claims.  It could potentially constitute an additional claim on top of a fire-origination claim, or it could constitute a stand-alone claim — for example, where the underlying fire was not necessarily due to the fault of any third-party, but where the lack of a smoke detector led to enhanced damages or injuries.

Do I have a case against my landlord?

Under the law, a failure to follow a statutory requirement would likely constitute negligence per se.  Of course, a finding of negligence would not in and of itself result in liability for damages.  There would also need to be proof that the lack of a smoke detector actually resulted in a delay in the detection of the fire, and which caused damages attributable to that delay, and not just due to the underlying fire itself.

Example Our firm filed a $10 million lawsuit arising out of the wrongful death of a 2 year old little girl in a house fire.  The fire allegedly occurred because a child innocently knocked over a space heater.  The lack of a smoke detector, however, allowed the fire to spread for several minutes and ultimately rage out of control before an adult in the back of the house discovered the blaze.  Unfortunately, it was too late for the little girl.  Had there been a smoke detector, that little girl would be alive today.  So, the lawsuit claim in that instance is not about the origination of the fire, or for recovering damage that would have occurred from a “regular” fire.   The lawsuit claim is only about the enhanced damage and loss of life that occurred only as a result of the lack of a smoke detector.

Tips for Landlords

INSTALL. Make sure that smoke detectors are installed in EVERY single rental unit you lease out.  Ideally, you should have smoke detectors that are hard-wired into the electrical system of the rental unit, and that use batteries simply for backup.  Landlords arguably also have the duty to maintain smoke detectors, so hard-wired detectors reduce the need for constant landlord inspection and replacement of batteries.

TEST. If you do not have hard-wired smoke detectors, periodically inspect and push the “test button” on the detectors, and also replace batteries as needed.

LEASE PROVISION. Include a provision in your Lease (and require your tenant to specifically initial it) stating and acknowledging that there are working smoke detectors in the rental unit at the time of move-in,  that the tenant has personally had the opportunity to inspect and test the smoke detectors, and that the tenant acknowledges and agrees that her or she is responsible for replacing the batteries and periodically testing the smoke detectors.

Tips for Tenants 

Never, ever live in a dwelling unit that does not have working smoke detectors, even if you have a difficult landlord and unfairly end up having to purchase and maintain the smoke detectors yourself.  The danger to life and property is simply too great.  Indeed, I can tell you from experience in dealing with clients — a great lawsuit is little comfort for the loss occasioned by a devastating fire.  No amount of money can replace the irreplaceable.

Need a lawyer in Memphis on a Smoke Detector Case?

We’d be honored to help you. Call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.  We represent clients in Bartlett, Cordova, Germantown, Lakeland, Millington, Atoka, Memphis, Nashville, and the surrounding areas.

Patterson Bray. Small Firm. Better Focus. Big Results.  To meet our team, click here.  To learn what we do, click here.

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Law FAQ: Will my insurance premium go up if I get hit by a uninsured driver and have no choice but to submit a claim on my own UM coverage?

Law FAQ: Will my insurance premium go up if I get hit by a uninsured driver and have no choice but to submit a claim on my own UM coverage?

I explained in a recent blog post about how Uninsured/Underinsured (UM) insurance coverage works, and how your UM coverage basically kicks in to protect you in the event you are involved a car wreck or auto related accident with someone who has little or no insurance.

We’ve found that our clients who find themselves in this situation are frequently worried about making a claim on their own insurance.  Indeed, clients often say something along the following lines:

“The car wreck wasn’t my fault, so why should I have to put this on my insurance?  That’s not fair.  I can’t afford for my insurance premium to go up, or worse yet — what if they cancel my policy?  I mean, I can’t afford the medical bills and damage to my car either, but maybe I’d be better off in the long run just doing the best I can and forgetting the insurance claim.”

On the surface, all of those concerns are perfectly valid.  However, there is actually no reason to worry.  Indeed, the law in Tennessee is absolutely clear on this point — it is unlawful by statute for your insurance carrier to raise your insurance premium or cancel your policy simply because you had the misfortune of getting hit by an irresponsible deadbeat who was driving around illegally with no liability insurance.  That’s exactly why you have UM coverage, and it would be wrong for your insurance company to be able to penalize you for something that isn’t your fault.

Accordingly, Tennessee Code Annotated § 56-7-1201(f) states that “No insurer shall increase the automobile insurance rate or premium of an insured with uninsured motorist coverage nor cancel the coverage due solely to the payment of any claim under uninsured motorist coverage.”

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What is uninsured motorist coverage, and how much do I need?

What is uninsured motorist coverage, and how much do I need?

uninsured motorist coverage lawyer auto accidentUnder Tennessee law, a driver is required to maintain liability insurance to cover any damages that the driver might cause in a car wreck or related accident.  That way, innocent victims are protected. Unfortunately, though, the minimum legal limit required under Tennessee law for liability coverage is only $25,000 — which is extremely low.  A car wreck can easily exhaust $25,000 in coverage.  And, of course, many drivers choose to violate the law by not carrying any auto insurance at all.  We see it all the time here in Memphis. This is why you need uninsured motorist coverage or “UM” coverage.

What happens if I get hit by a driver with little or no liability insurance?

This is where your own uninsured motorist coverage or underinsured motorist coverage would kick in to protect you.

In insurance lingo, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is typically referred to as “UM coverage.”  UM coverage is included as part of your own liability policy, and it is usually the same amount as your liability coverage.  So, if you have $50,000 in liability coverage, then you also have $50,000 in UM coverage.  The UM component of your policy essentially makes up the difference for any deficiency in the liability coverage of the negligent driver.

But there’s a catch:  UM coverage is only available to the extent your own policy limit is greater than the policy limit of the negligent driver in the auto accident.

Examples of How Uninsured Motorist Coverage Works

Example 1:  Our client suffered spinal injuries and a broken pelvis in a car crash requiring significant surgeries and medical treatment.  The negligent driver only had $50,000 in insurance coverage, but fortunately, our client carried $250,000 coverage of her own.  We were therefore able to negotiate a total settlement of $250,000 (the first $50,000 from negligent party’s insurance company and the remaining $200,000 from our client’s own insurance company).  

Example 2:  Our client was partially paralyzed in a car crash. Unfortunately, the negligent driver only had $25,000 in liability insurance coverage, and the client only had $50,000 herself.  As a result, the client was only able to recover a total of $50,000 ($25,000 from negligent party’s insurance company plus an additional $25,000 from her own insurance company).  The negligent driver had no assets to pursue.

Review your insurance policy today and check your coverage.

The examples above highlight a very important LESSON.   While it may be tempting when buying your own insurance to choose the cheaper option of low liability limits, you must remember that you are not just choosing liability protection for others, or making a risk calculation about whether you think you are a safe driver who may never  cause an accident or need liability coverage.  Indeed, when choosing your coverage limits, you are — in effect — also choosing the insurance limits that will cover your own family if a potential UM coverage situation occurs where an uninsured driver negligently crashes into you or another member of your family.  In other words, low liability limits may seem like a bargain until someone with little or no insurance causes a catastrophic injury to you or someone in your family.  Often, the marginal price for an increase in coverage is quite minimal.  And well worth it!

If you need a car accident lawyer

If you’ve been in a car crash, even relatively minor injuries can be overwhelming. Medical treatment can be  expensive, and injuries often result in lost wages. We would be honored to review your case free of charge.  Please either submit an online request for a Free Case Review, or call to speak with one of our car accident lawyers at 901-372-5003.

Patterson Bray — Law FAQ Series: Submit Your Legal Questions!

Patterson Bray — Law FAQ Series: Submit Your Legal Questions!

In thinking about how we might better serve our friends, clients, and prospective clients seeking reliable information on the web about Tennessee law, we decided to start a new series called Law FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).  Similarly, we will have periodic blog posts regarding current legal news or informative topics called Law Talk.

Using “Question & Answer” format, we will provide a 30-45 second shot of useful information a few times each week.  Sample topics may include personal injury, business law, construction law, commercial litigation, negligence, medical malpractice, technology, estate planning, auto accidents or car wrecks, insurance law, asset protection, civil rights, brain injury, wrongful death, hospital negligence, nursing home abuse, pharmacy error, workers’ compensation, probate, charitable planning, and trusts.  See a sample Law FAQ here.

We also want this series to be interactive, and so we invite you to submit questions or suggested topics by filling out the Contact Form here and including “Law FAQ” in the Subject/Inquiry box.  Please be assured that your privacy is paramount, so you can be confident that we will not include any names or any identifying details or information when posting about a particular question or topic.  Further, while we may not have the space to answer every specific question, we will do our best to cover in a general way any topics that are submitted.

We also welcome your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section below any of the posts on the blog.

We hope you will enjoy Law FAQ and Law Talk series.  You can easily follow the series by adding our blog address to your Google/RSS feeder, or you can follow along on Facebook by clicking here and then hitting the “Like” button.  You can also keep up with the series on Twitter by clicking here and then hitting the “Follow” button.

We hope you won’t necessarily need all of the information included in the Law FAQ series, but we hope that you will be able to pick up some interesting and valuable information along the way.

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Patterson Bray serves the communities of Memphis, Cordova, Bartlett, Germantown, Collierville, Millington, Southaven, Shelby County, Oakland, Tennessee, Nashville, Brentwood, Franklin and surrounding areas.

Law FAQ: How long do I have to file a legal claim?

Law FAQ: How long do I have to file a legal claim?

The deadline for filing a lawsuit is referred to as the statute of limitation.  The length of time you have to file a lawsuit under Tennessee law depends on the nature of the underlying claim:

Personal Injury — Under Tennessee law, a personal injury claim must generally be filed within 1 year from the date of injury.  Personal injury claims include things like car wrecks, slip and falls, and medical malpractice.  There are some situations where the 1 year deadline can be extended — for example, where an injury cannot reasonably be discovered within the statute of limitation, or where the injury occurs to a minor — however, such exceptions are rare and can be very tricky.  The determination of the precise time period can be complicated, and therefore you should contact a lawyer if you you have a personal injury claim to avoid the risk that you miss an important deadline.  (Other claims that are likewise subject to a 1 year statute of limitation include many state and federal civil rights claims, claims for legal malpractice, violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, and claims for breach of fiduciary duty by a corporate officer.)

Important Note: the “date of injury” for purposes of calculating the 1 year is the date of the incident leading to the injury — not necessarily the date the injury blossoms into it full consequence.  Example: a car wreck occurs and the victim initially survives but eventually dies in the hospital 5 days later.  The date the statute of limitation begins to run on the wrongful death claim is NOT the date of the death, but rather the date of the auto accident.

Defective/Dangerous Product — Under Tennessee law, a products liability claim must generally be filed within 1 year from the date of injury, but in no event can it be later than 10 years from the date of the first purchase of the product for use or consumption. Determination of the exact time period can be confusing, and you should contact a lawyer immediately if you believe you have been the victim of a defective or dangerous product, or you may risk forfeiting your legal rights.

Property Loss — Generally speaking, a claim for property-related losses must be filed within 3 years.   This would include, for example, not only physical damage to property (damage to vehicle, house fire, etc.) but also the loss of property or funds as the result of fraud, misrepresentation, conversion, or unlawful interference with contract.

Breach of Contract — Under Tennessee law, a breach of contract claim must be filed within 6 years, unless the contracting parties have agreed in their contract to a shorter deadline.   Breach of contract claims would include, for example, failure to perform agreed-upon services, failure to deliver goods purchased, or failure to make payment.  One notable exception to this rule, however, are breach of contract claims as they relate to the improvement of property (e.g. claims against building or home improvement contractors).  The statute of limitation for such claims is only 4 years from the date of substantial completion of the improvements.

Please note that these deadlines are the generally applicable deadlines for garden variety-type claims.  It would be virtually impossible to attempt to catalog each and every type of claim, and one should be mindful that there are specific statutes of limitation (and potential exceptions) that may apply to particular circumstances and claims.  The most prudent course of action is to contact a lawyer immediately if you think you have a claim that requires investigation and/or legal action.

Stay tuned for more updates/FAQs.

Law FAQ: I was injured in an accident. What amount of damages can I expect to recover?

Law FAQ: I was injured in an accident. What amount of damages can I expect to recover?

Based on some of the TV commercials and urban myths out there, people are led to believe that if they or a loved one has been injured in an accident that they can expect an easy road to a big, fat check.    Don’t believe everything you hear, though, because that simply is not the case.

If you are injured as the result of the negligence of another person or company, you ARE indeed entitled to a fair recovery for your losses — both economic and non-economic losses.  However, insurance companies and adjusters aren’t in the business of just giving away money willy-nilly.  And neither are juries.

If you have a serious injury, there’s nothing that’s “easy” about the process at all.

Unless you want a quick-and-dirty, low-ball settlement you hear about on TV, then you should consult an experienced attorney who will evaluate the facts, determine the strength of your claim, and then actually do the hard work that it takes to secure a favorable and fair outcome, including negotiating with your health insurance carrier for the inevitable subrogation claim against your recovery.

As for the amount of damages that might be recovered, the components of an injury claim include such things as lost wages, lost future earning capacity, medical expenses (past and future), emotional distress, loss of services or companionship of a loved one,  physical/mental impairment, and pain and suffering.  The actual amount varies from case to case depending primarily on the nature and extent of the injuries and damages, as well as the skill and experience of the attorney who pursues the claim.

There is no exact formula to determine a precise figure, but factors that bear on an award of damages include such things as:  the type of injury, the type of medical treatment, the length of medical treatment, the cost of medical treatment, the part(s) of the body injured, the permanency of the injury, your familial status, your age, your prior medical problems (if any), the egregiousness of the conduct of the offender, any past history of similar incidents, your willingness to take the case to trial, the availability insurance coverage, and the size of awards and settlements in similar cases.

Furthermore, the Tennessee legislature this past session passed caps on the amount of the “non-economic” damage component that can be recovered.  Quality of life damages (i.e. pain and suffering, loss of companionship, etc.)  are limited to $750,000, although the law creates exceptions in cases that involve intentional misconduct, destruction of records or activity under the influence of drugs or alcohol.   The cap  rises to $1 million for catastrophic losses defined as conditions involving paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputation, especially severe burns, or the wrongful death of a parent leaving minor children.  These caps would not apply, however, to economic damages such as lost wages and medical expenses, for example.

Stay tuned for more FAQs.

Watch Out for Pharmacy Errors – It Could Save Your Life!

pharmacy error lawyer memphis

Recognize Pharmacy Errors

Most pharmacists do a wonderful job. However, preventable mistakes  and pharmacy errors do sometimes occur.

In just the past few years, we’ve represented 2 different plaintiffs in cases involving 2 separate national chain pharmacies that mistakenly dispensed the wrong medication. And unfortunately, it had serious consequences in those couple of instances — so bad, in fact, that we ended up settling those cases for amounts exceeding six figures.

The best course of action for you is not to be a plaintiff in the first place. Resolve to be a responsible partner in your own healthcare. Communicate with your pharmacist and other healthcare providers. Ask questions and stay vigilant about your medications. Know what they are supposed to look like, and what your dosage is supposed to be.

It could save your life.

Need a Lawyer?

Call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.


Patterson Bray PLLC

8001 Centerview Parkway, Suite 103

Memphis, Tennessee 38018

(901) 372-5003 Office