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Causation in a Head-on Collision in Tennessee

In Denton v. Taylor, the court considered a head-on crash that resulted in the death of the driver of one car and serious injuries to the driver of the other. The driver of the other car sued the decedent’s widow and estate. The plaintiff didn’t remember what had happened, and there were no witnesses. Fifteen months later, the wife moved for summary judgment on the ground that there was not enough evidence to establish causation. She filed an affidavit from the investigating officer, who stated he couldn’t find evidence on the road to show the impact point.

The plaintiff filed a motion requesting more time to obtain and file an accident reconstruction report, but this motion was denied. Summary judgment for the defendant was granted.

The case arose in 2013, when the decedent had been pronounced dead at the scene. The investigating officer had stated in an affidavit that there were no witnesses and also that he couldn’t determine the point of impact. The plaintiff pointed to a toxicology accident report that showed the decedent’s blood had hydrocodone and hydromorphone, and said that summary judgment was inappropriate.

At the summary judgment hearing, the plaintiff’s attorney talked about wanting to get a professional reconstruction report in order to counter the summary judgment motion. After the hearing, however, the plaintiff filed a one-sentence motion asking to enlarge the time to file the report.

The trial court granted summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice, noting that the defendant had asserted the undisputed facts that the plaintiff had no memory of impact or the accident, the other driver had died, and the deputy had no evidence about the impact. There was no evidence from either the plaintiff or the defendant about how the accident happened, only that the decedent had prescription opiates in his system, which led to a reasonable inference of intoxication.

The plaintiff argued it was foreseeable that an accident could happen because of that intoxication, but the plaintiff hadn’t addressed causation. The trial court noted that there was no evidence that the intoxication had caused the accident or that the defendant crossed into the plaintiff’s lane of travel. Although the plaintiff’s attorney had mentioned wanting to get an accident reconstruction report, he hadn’t designated an accident reconstruction expert or requested time to get one. The trial court denied the motion asking for more time.

The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court should have given it more time to get an accident reconstruction report and that summary judgment was improper. The appellate court explained that the decision about more time was within the trial court’s discretion under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 6.02 and Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.07, relating to summary judgment.

The appellate court explained that in Tennessee, if the moving party doesn’t have the burden of proof at trial, it can either negate an essential element of the other party’s claim or show the evidence is insufficient to establish the other party’s claim. Under Rule 56.07, a request for more time to get evidence to defeat a summary judgment motion must include an affidavit in support. In this case, the plaintiff hadn’t filed any affidavit to explain why he couldn’t get the appropriate evidence in advance or to explain why he couldn’t ask for additional time until after the hearing. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you are injured in a car accident in Tennessee, you should retain knowledgeable and skillful representation. The attorneys at Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz may be able to help you recover compensation. Call us at 1-800-529-4004 or complete our online form.