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Topic: Automobile/Motorcycle Liability

Recent Tennessee Court of Appeals Decision Finds that One Year Statute of Limitations May Not Apply to Uninsured Motorist Claims

Posted on Aug 27 2017 10:58AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Larry Stine Bates v. Michael J. Greene, W2016-01868-COA-R3-CV, 2017 WL 3206599 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017) dealt with an interesting issue involving the statute of limitations that applies to the filing of a claim against an uninsured motorist carrier.  The uninsured motorist carrier in this case was Shelter Insurance. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant, the alleged tortfeasor, within one year of the accident. However, the civil warrant was returned unserved. An alias was then issued for the defendant but it was also returned unserved. Over two years after the actual accident, an amended alias civil warrant was issued against the defendant, which added Shelter Insurance Company, plaintiff’s uninsured motorist carrier, as a defendant. The uninsured motorist carrier was served over two years after the accident occurred.


As a result, the insurance company filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and claimed that the action against it was barred by the one-year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions. The circuit court agreed and granted the Motion for Summary Judgment, dismissing the case against the uninsured motorist carrier. The court found the one-year personal injury statute of limitations applied to the uninsured motorist claim.


On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reviewed the situation in detail. They reviewed a significant amount of prior cases as well as statutory changes to the uninsured motorist statute.  Ultimately, the Court concluded that in this case, the one-year statute of limitations for a personal injury claim did not apply. Instead, the six-year statute of limitations for a contract cause of action applied for the claim against the uninsured motorist carrier.  Multiple prior Tennessee cases have held consistent with this opinion in the past. The Court also analyzed T.C.A. § 56 -7-1206(d) which provides the following:


(d) In the event that service of process against the uninsured motorist, which was issued to the motorist's last known address, is returned by the sheriff or other process server marked, “Not to be found in my county,” or words to that effect, or if service of process is being made upon the secretary of state for a nonresident uninsured motorist and the registered notice to the last known address is returned without service on the uninsured motorist, the service of process against the uninsured motorist carrier, pursuant to this section, shall be sufficient for the court to require the insurer to proceed as if it is the only defendant in the case.


Based on this statute the Court noted that the legislator intended that a plaintiff could sue the uninsured m...

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TAGS: Uninsured Motorist, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, Statute of Limitations Comments [0]

Tennessee Legislator Expands Right-of-Way Law for Passing Stationary Vehicles on Side of Road

Posted on May 28 2017 4:02PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

As many in Tennessee are aware, a few years ago the Tennessee Legislator passed T.C.A. § 55-8-132 which provides that when an individual passes a stationary emergency vehicle on the side of the road, there are certain requirements to try to pull over or slow down, depending on the road conditions. Previously, this applied only to emergency vehicles that were using flashing light.  The prior statutory language was as follows:


(a) Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle making use of audible and visual signals meeting the requirements of the applicable laws of this state, or of a police vehicle properly and lawfully making use of an audible signal only:

(1) The driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right-of-way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection, and shall stop and remain in that position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer; and

(2) Upon the approach of an authorized emergency vehicle, as stated above , the operator of every streetcar shall immediately stop the streetcar clear of any intersection and keep it in that position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer.

(b) Upon approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, when the vehicle is giving a signal by use of flashing lights, a person who drives an approaching vehicle shall:

(1) Proceeding with due caution, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that of the authorized emergency vehicle, if possible with due regard to safety and traffic conditions, if on a highway having at least four (4) lanes with not less than two (2) lanes proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle; or

(2) Proceeding with due caution, reduce the speed of the vehicle, maintaining a safe speed for road conditions, if changing lanes would be impossible or unsafe.


However, the 2017 Tennessee Legislator expanded this law to now apply to any “stationary motor vehicle”.  This was done in Public Chapter No. 95, signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam on April 4, 2017 and effective on July 1, 2017.


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TAGS: Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, 2017 Tennessee Legislation Comments [0]

New Tennessee Law Provides Protection from Personal Liability for Certain Volunteer Drivers

Posted on Jul 18 2015 3:50PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee legislature passed a new law that provides protections for volunteer drivers in Tennessee.  Specifically, Public Chapter No. 152 was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam on April 16, 2015.  This law is called the “Protection of Volunteer – Insured Drivers of the Elderly (PROVIDE) Act.”  This law can certainly have an impact on certain automobile accident cases.  Specifically, this law provides that volunteer drivers who provide transportation for senior citizens through a charitable organization or human service agency cannot be found individually liable for any civil damages beyond the insurance policy limits collectible for the accident. 


This new law protects the at fault driver as long as their fault consists of simple negligence.  However, it is important to note that this statute does not provide this limited immunity when the conduct of the voluntary driver constitutes gross negligence, or willful and wanton misconduct.  Additionally, the human services agency or charitable organization must maintain liability insurance coverage at least equal to the minimum limits set forth in T.C.A. § 29-20-403 of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (which provides for minimum policy limits of $300,000.00/$700,000.00).


This new statute takes effect for actions that arise on or after July 1, 2015.  The entire statute provides as follows:


(a) As used in this section:

(1) "Charitable organization" means any charitable unit of a religious or civic group exempt from taxation under 26 U.S.C. § 501, including those supported wholly or partially by private donations;

(2) "Human service agency" means any human service unit, clinic, senior citizens program, congregate meal center, or day care center for the elderly, whether supported wholly or partially by public funds;

(3) "Volunteer" means an individual providing volunteer transportation who may receive reimbursement for actual expenses or an allowance to defray expenses of operating the vehicle used to provide transportation services, but does not receive compensation for the person's time; and

(4) "Volunteer tr...

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TAGS: Damages, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, 2015 Tennessee Legislation, Immunity Comments [0]

New Tennessee Statute Provides Immunity for Forcible Entry Into A Motor Vehicle to Remove Minor in Imminent Danger

Posted on Jul 13 2014 7:03PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The Tennessee Legislature dealt with an interesting issue in the 2014 legislative session involving minor’s stuck in vehicles.  The legislature passed Public Chapter No. 788 and it took effect on July 1, 2014.  Apparently, there was some need to pass this statute although this statute really addresses a very rare circumstance.  It is of note, however, that this particular change in Tennessee law has received quite a bit of attention from the media even though there are other changes in the law that are much more substantial and significant but they receive no media attention. 


In summary this new statute basically provides immunity from civil liability for any damages resulting from forcible entry into a vehicle to remove a minor from the vehicle.  The person who removes the minor must have a good faith belief that forcible entry is necessary because the minor is in imminent danger of suffering harm.  There are also other requirements that are outlined in the statute and must be followed for this immunity to apply.  The new statute is found in T.C.A. § 29-34-209 and provides as follows:


(a) A person whose conduct conforms to the requirements of subsection (b) shall be immune from civil liability for any damage resulting from the forcible entry of a motor vehicle for the purpose of removing a minor from the vehicle.
(b) Subsection (a) applies if the person:
 (1) Determines the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the minor to exit the vehicle;
 (2) Has a good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the minor is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed from  the vehicle and, based upon the circumstances known to the person at the time, the belief is a reasonable one;
 (3) Has contacted either the local law enforcement agency, the fire department or the 911 operator prior to forcibly entering the vehicle;
 (4) Places a notice on the vehicle's windshield with the person's contact information, the reason the entry was made, the location of the minor and that the  authorities have been notified;
 (5) Remains with the minor in a safe location, out of the elements but reasonably close to the vehicle until law enforcement, fire or other emergency responder  arrives; and
 (6) Used no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the child from the vehicle than is necessary under the circumstances.
(c) Nothing in this section shall affect the person's civil liability if the person attempts to render aid to the minor in addition to what is authorized by this section.


Obviously, it is likely a rare circumstance where this will occur (I am referring to the actual need for immunity to apply to protect someone from a lawsuit – I am aware that minors are sometimes left in vehicl...

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TAGS: Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, 2014 Tennessee Legislation, Defenses, Immunity Comments [0]

New Tennessee Law Clarifies that Red Light Violation Does Not Occur When Vehicle’s Front Tires Have Already Entered Intersection When Light Turns Red

Posted on Jul 6 2014 8:59PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  In the 2014 Tennessee Legislative session the Tennessee Legislature decided to clarify exactly what constitutes a red light violation in Tennessee.  The legislature amended T.C.A. § 55-8-110 which is the statute that discusses what traffic control signals mean for an intersection.  It defines and explains the meaning of the “green”, “yellow”, and “red” notifications on traffic signal devices.  The Tennessee Legislature passed Public Chapter No. 989 that added a new subsection (e) to T.C.A. § 55-8-110 as follows:


(e) It is not a violation of subdivision (a)(3), unless the front tires of a vehicle cross the stop line after the signal is red.


Subsection (a)(3) is the section that discusses the responsibilities of a driver when faced with a red light in Tennessee.  As a result of this change, it is not a red light violation unless the front tires of the vehicle cross the stop line after the signal is already red.  As a result, if the front tires are already beyond the traffic intersection line at the point when the light turns red, then it is not a red light violation under the newly amended T.C.A. § 55-8-110.  This law takes effect on July 1, 2014.


Obviously, this change in the law will come into play in automobile accident litigation across the state of Tennessee.  This new statute more clearly defines what it means to violate a red light and provides a definitive time period when a red light violation occurs (when the vehicle’s front tires cross the intersection line when the light is already red).  I am sure this statute will be heavily involved in litigated car accident cases across the State of Tennessee.  However, I think it is a beneficial clarification in the law to make a bright line test for when a red light violation occurs.  There is still plenty of room for disagreement as to whether the fr...

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TAGS: Uninsured Motorist, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, 2014 Tennessee Legislation, Defenses Comments [1]

In Tennessee if an Individual Passes Out While Driving a Vehicle, are they Responsible if they Cause an Accident?

Posted on Jan 28 2014 9:28AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently dealt with the question of the responsibility of an individual who becomes unconscious, while driving, causing an automobile accident.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals in George Smith v. General Tire and Emily Alexander, No. M2012-01446-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 2395047 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013) involved a case where a man was injured in a head-on collision.  The unconscious defendant in this case testified she did not remember anything on the day of the accident from the point she came to a red light on Gallatin Road until she woke up in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.  She had a long history of diabetes but she had never experienced a loss of consciousness prior to the accident in question.  Additionally, she had never been advised by her physician that she should not drive a vehicle.  Her treating physician testified her blood sugar level must have dropped too quickly for her to realize before she became unconscious. 


There was medical testimony submitted by both sides pertaining to the possibility of her becoming unconscious based on the medication and diagnosis of the defendant.  The Smith court found that the Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted a rule that embodies how to deal with evaluating the situation where a driver suddenly loses consciousness.  This rule is as follows:


A sudden loss of consciousness or physical capacity experienced while driving which is not reasonably foreseeable is a defense to a negligence action. To constitute a defense, defendant must establish that the sudden loss of consciousness or physical capacity to control the vehicle was not reasonably foreseeable to a prudent person. As a result, the defense is not avail...

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TAGS: Negligence, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, Defenses Comments [0]

What “Rules of the Road” Apply to Riding an Animal or Animal Drawn Vehicle in Tennessee?

Posted on Nov 3 2013 4:25PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  I was recently asked what Tennessee statutes govern whether horses are allowed on roadways and what “rules of the road” would apply to horses or other animal drawn vehicles.  Tennessee has a statute that cover this issue.  T.C.A. § 55-8-105 provides that animals and animal drawn vehicles on the roadway are basically subject to the same laws as all other vehicles on the road.  They are granted the same rights as well as the same duties that are provided to motor vehicles under Tennessee law. 


T.C.A. § 55-8-105 provides as follows:


Every person riding an animal or driving any animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title, except those provisions of this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title that by their very nature can have no application.


The only exception listed in this statute where the rules of the road and duties applicable to drivers of motor vehicles do not apply are where the statute by its very nature could have no application.  For example, if there are specific statutes that discuss braking requirements or turn signals, those would not apply to someone who is riding a horse under T.C.A. § 55-8-105. 


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TAGS: Negligence, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability Comments [0]

Automobile and Trucking Liability - Are Tennessee emergency responders exempt from traffic laws and can they be held responsible for accidents?

Posted on Sep 30 2013 7:33AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Brief Summary:  Tennessee emergency responders are not required to follow certain traffic laws when responding to an emergency call.  However, they are still required to drive with “due regard for the safety of all persons” and can still be held liable if they do not comply with this requirement.


Analysis:  A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision discussed an interesting issue about whether emergency responders are required to comply with traffic laws.  The case of Hardeman County v. Judy I. McIntyre, 2013 WL 1227034, No. W2012-01690-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013) involved a situation where an ambulance struck another vehicle while on an emergency call.  The ambulance crossed the double lines in order to proceed around some vehicles but ended up striking the plaintiff’s vehicle, injuring the plaintiff.  The trial court assessed 60% of the fault against the ambulance driver and 40% of the fault against the driver of the other vehicle.  The case was appealed and the respective duties were discussed in detail.


The court noted that T.C.A. § 55-8-108 provides that emergency responders are exempt from certain traffic laws in Tennessee.  The key parts to T.C.A. § 55-8-108 are as follows:

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TAGS: Negligence, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, Defenses Comments [0]

Immunity - Can a child sue their parent in a tort suit in Tennessee?

Posted on Jan 15 2013 10:52AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Brief Summary:  The parental immunity doctrine does apply in Tennessee but was limited by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1994.  The doctrine is limited to “conduct that constitutes the exercise of parental authority, the performance of parental supervision, and the provision of parental care and custody.”


Analysis:  I recently received a question about whether a child can sue their parent for negligence in tort.  Historically, the doctrine of “parental immunity” barred such a cause of action.  This doctrine was first adopted by Tennessee Supreme Court in McKelvey v. McKelvey, 77 S.W. 664 (Tenn. 1903).  It was also reaffirmed as recently as 1985 by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Barranco v. Jackson, 690 S.W.2d 221 (Tenn. 1985).  However, this doctrine was modified by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1994 in the case of Broadwell by Broadwell v. Holmes, 871 S.W.2d 471 (Tenn. 1994).


In Broadwell, the Tennessee Supreme Court noted the trend at that time across America was to modify and limit the absolute parental immunity doctrine.  As a result, the Court analyzed various modifications other states had enacted to the parental immunity doctrine (this is an interesting analysis if you are interested in this topic but it will not be restated here). Broadwell at 473 – 475.  The Court also noted the reasons and justification for this doctrine as follow: 


The parental right to govern the rearing of a child has been afforded protection under both the federal and state constitutions. This Court has stated, “Tennessee's historically strong protection of parental rights and the reasoning of federal constitutional cases convince us that parental rights constitute a fundamental liberty interest under Article I, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution.”  The integrity of the family unit has found protection against arbitrary state interference in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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TAGS: Negligence, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, Immunity Comments [0]

Motorcycle Operator Liability – It is a violation of Tennessee law if passenger child's feet are not on footpegs of motorcycle.

Posted on Aug 13 2012 10:24AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee legislature recently adopted Public Chapter No. 907 which was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam on May 10, 2012.  This bill amended T.C.A. § 55-8-164 to add a new subsection (e).  This addition to the statute makes it a Class C misdemeanor in the State of Tennessee when an operator of a motorcycle carries a child whose feet are not on the footpegs of the motorcycle. 


T.C.A. § 55-8-164 provides as follows (the section added by this amendment is in bold):


(a) A person operating a motorcycle shall ride only upon the permanent and regular seat attached thereto, and such operator shall not carry any other person, nor shall any other person ride on a motorcycle, unless the motorcycle is designed to carry more than one (1) person, in which event a passenger may ride upon the permanent and regular seat if designed for two (2) persons, or upon another seat firmly attached to the rear or side of the operator.

(b) A person shall ride upon a motorcycle only while sitting astride the seat, headlamp illuminated, facing forward, with one (1) leg on each side of the motorcycle.

(c) No person shall operate a motorcycle while carrying any package, bundle, or other article which prevents the person from keeping both hands on the handlebars.

(d) No operator shall carry any person, nor shall any person ride, in a position that will interfere with the operation or control of the motorcycle or the view of the operator.

(e)(1) An operator commits an offense who, on the streets of any municipality, roads of any county, or the highways of this state, carries a child as a passenger on a motorcycle whose feet are not on footpegs.  Provided, the provisions of this subsection shall not apply to persons riding in a motorcycle sidecar. 

(2)(A) A violation of this subsection is a Class C misdemeanor…


This amendment to the bill provides a potential basis for liability when an operator of a motorcycle carries a child who is not tall enough to reach the footpegs.  In fact, this statute does not even limit the violation to circumstances where an individual is unable to reach the footpegs.  Rather the motorcycle operator can be cited simply when the child’s feet are not on the footpegs.  Thi...

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TAGS: Negligence, Automobile/Motorcycle Liability, 2012 Tennessee Legislation Comments [0]
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
611 Commerce Street, Suite 2603
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com