Why You Don’t Hear About Liability Insurance in a Jury Trial

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Why You Don’t Hear About Liability Insurance in a Jury Trial

Did you know that during most Tennessee state court jury trials, you will never hear the word “insurance?”  That’s because 99% of the time, evidence of liability insurance is not admissible under the Tennessee Rules of Evidence.

Tennessee Rule of Evidence 411 provides that:

Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon issues of negligence or other wrongful conduct. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of insurance against liability when offered for another purpose, such as proof of agency, ownership, or control, or bias or prejudice of a witness.

Rationale

Rule 411 is based on the notion that disputes should be resolved based on the conduct of the people involved, not based on whether they have insurance.

Insurance Jury Instruction

Not everyone has insurance. Some people have some insurance, but not enough.  Sometimes a person will have purchased an insurance policy only to find out that it won’t apply to pay damages in certain kinds of lawsuits. Sometimes the Judge will issue a jury instruction in Tennessee to help guard against improper consideration of insurance.  When the instruction is used, the Judge tells the jury that:

[W]hether or not insurance exists has no bearing upon any issue in this case. You may not discuss insurance or speculate about insurance based on your general knowledge.  There are sound reasons for this rule. A party is no more or less likely to be negligent because a party does or does not have insurance. Injuries and damages, if any, are not increased or decreased because a party does or does not have insurance.

Tennessee Pattern Jury Instruction – Civil 1.05.

Insurance Information Is Still Useful

Just because we can’t use evidence of insurance in jury trials doesn’t mean we can’t make good use of the information.  Knowing whether parties are insured, and to what extent, helps us develop an efficient strategy for resolving a dispute, and it helps us give sound advice to our clients who are wondering if they should settle a claim or file a lawsuit.

Need help settling a claim with a liability insurance carrier?

We can help you. Wiseman Bray has offices in Memphis and Nashville Tennessee. Call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.

It’s Prom Season: Liquor Liability for Allowing Minors to Drink Alcohol

liquor liability for prom party

What You Need to Know About Prom Season

Since it’s Prom Season, let’s talk about liquor liability for social hosts.

Let’s say you’re one of those parents who thinks, “teenagers are going to drink, so I’m going to allow my kids to drink in my home so they won’t do it somewhere else.”  Your teenager asks you if he can have a “Prom After-Party” at your home with a few friends. You agree. You also agree that they can “drink a little.” You tell your son that no one will be allowed to drive.

Now consider this, let’s say your daughter was in a car accident on her way home from Starbucks after her Prom.  Other than coffee, she hadn’t had a drop to drink. The other driver was an underage intoxicated teenage girl who had just left a “Prom After-Party” at a private home where alcohol was served. She disregarded the “no one is driving home” rule that the parents set for the evening.

So, what’s the law on parents who allow minors to drink in their homes?

Social Host Liquor Liability

In general, if you host a party and serve free alcohol to your guests, you’re not going to be liable if they become intoxicated and injure someone on the way home.  Tennessee Liquor Liability statutes are designed to apply mainly to bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, so there’s a distinction between selling alcohol and otherwise providing it. Tenn. Code Ann. 57-10-102.  However, as is usually the case, there are exceptions, meaning that even if you don’t sell alcohol, you could still become liable under certain circumstances.

Serving Alcohol to Minors

If you have a party at your home and serve alcohol to a minor who becomes intoxicated, you could be held liable if that minor causes injury or damage to a third person.  You could even be liable if you don’t provide the alcohol, but you know the minors are drinking it. This is because, in some cases, the law considers an adult host to be in a “special relationship” with a minor guest, such that the adult host owes a duty to ensure the safety of the minor guest, as well as to keep the minor from driving while intoxicated.

social host liquor liability

Liquor Liability Law in Tennessee is Complex

It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible if you have a potential Liquor Liability case.  While underage drinking is certainly illegal, civil liability implications are extremely fact-intensive and liability varies from case to case.

Wiseman Bray has offices in Memphis and Nashville TN. If you have a question about liquor liability, the Dram Shop Act, or social host laws in Tennessee, please call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.

Example of a Liquor Liability Case Involving Minors

For an example of a liquor liability case involving minors and alcohol, read the Biscan v. Brown case.

 

Injured by a Drunk Driver?

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The Sad Truth About Drunk Driving

Chances are, you either have been or will be the victim of a drunk driver in your lifetime. We know that intoxicated drivers cause personal injuries and deaths every day, but they also cause property damage. Even if you are not injured, your property may be. For example, drunk drivers often cause damage to other cars, houses, businesses, guardrails, signs, yards, and landscaping.

Drunk Driving Statistics

What are the odds that you have been or will be affected by a drunk or intoxicated driver? Take a look at these harrowing  statistics:

  • Every 2 minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash.
  • On average, 2 in 3 people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime.
  • The rate of drunk driving is highest among 26-29 year olds at 20.7%.
  • In 2014, 9,967 people died in drunk driving crashes. That’s one every 53 minutes. Another 290,000 were injured in drunk driving crashes.
  • Drunk driving costs the U.S. $132 Billion a year.
  • In 2010, drunk driving alone accounted for 18% of the total economic loss from motor vehicle crashes, costing the economy as much as $199 billion in direct and quality-of-life losses.

What does Drunk or “Intoxicated” Mean?

Tennessee law provides that a person is intoxicated when his or her physical and mental abilities are impaired as a result of drinking or drug use. The impairment must be to the extent that the person can’t act with ordinary and reasonable care like a sober person would under similar circumstances.

Can a Drunk Driver or Person Be Negligent?

Yes!  A drunk person is held to the same standard as a sober person.  Being intoxicated is no excuse for failure to act as a reasonably careful person.

We Represent Victims of Drunk Driving.

As a victim, you need a lawyer with the experience, drive, and knowledge necessary to compete with the insurance companies who are handling your claim. Otherwise, you’ll end up being a victim twice, and you might not even realize it until it’s already too late.  We are victim attorneys and we represent people who have been injured or damaged by drunk or intoxicated drivers. If you need help, we have offices in Memphis and Nashville Tennessee.  Please call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.

 

Should you apologize after a Car Accident? Ask the Personal Injury Lawyer

Some people say “I’m sorry” because they don’t know what else to say in an uncomfortable situation. Others say “I’m sorry” to express sympathy or concern.  Some people say “I’m sorry” because they want to apologize for a situation they’ve caused. So, what would a personal injury lawyer tell you about apologizing?

What’s the legal effect of saying you’re sorry?

Suppose you’re in a car accident and it was your fault. Without a doubt, you know the other driver didn’t do anything wrong.  You can see that the other car is damaged and the driver appears injured. Should you apologize or admit fault?

Or, what if you’re in an accident but you’re not sure about who was at fault? You can see the other driver is hurt, so like any good Southerner, you go over and instinctively say, “I am soooooo sorry. Are you alright? Do you need an ambulance?” Have you just admitted liability for the car accident?

“I’m Sorry” = Not Admissible to Show Liability

Tennessee Rule of Evidence 409.1 addresses apologies and saying “I’m sorry.”  The Rule provides that certain statements and actions reflecting sympathy for an injured person are not admissible at a trial. The Rule is designed to encourage settlements. The underlying theory is that a settlement is more likely if a person is free to express sympathy to the injured person without making a statement that would be considered an admission of liability.

Statements of Fault are Admissible

Rule 409.1 only extends to “benevolent gestures” and does not exclude statements of fault. If you are a victim in an accident and someone tells you it was their fault, write down their exact words. This evidence could help your injury lawyer prove liability and can increase your chances of recovering damages. If you tell someone that you were at fault for an accident, then your statement will most likely be admissible as evidence if a lawsuit results.

Moral of the Story

A simple apology can go a long way toward making an injured person feel more comfortable with settling a case rather than filing a lawsuit. People like to receive apologies. Be human. Feel free to say “I’m sorry”, but be careful about statements of fault.

Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Call Wiseman Bray PLLC at (901) 372-5003 or email us here.  We have a personal injury lawyer for you. You can also visit our website to learn more about our approach to personal injury work  and some of the results we’ve achieved for our clients, with offices in both Memphis and Nashville.

Runners Hit by Cars: Advice from a Personal Injury Lawyer and Certified Running Coach

Runners Hit by Cars: Advice from a Personal Injury Lawyer and Certified Running Coach

hit by car- memphis personal injury lawyer

It’s not uncommon for runners and other pedestrians to be hit by cars.  We’ve seen it in our personal injury practice, and we’ve seen it on the news. For example, in Midtown Memphis, two women were hit while using an intersection, and in Germantown, a man was hit and killed by a car.

Legal Rights and Duties of Runners and Pedestrians

Most people are aware of the Rules of the Road that apply to drivers, but what are the legal duties and rights of an injured runner or pedestrian?  A common misconception is that a pedestrian always has the right of way, but that is not necessarily true. Both drivers and pedestrians have certain rights and duties under the law.

A Runner’s Legal Duties

  • You have the duty to look before starting to cross a street.
  • You have the duty to exercise reasonable care for your own safety.
  • You have the duty to keep a timely lookout for traffic.
  • You have a duty to follow the pedestrian signals.
  • You have a duty to use sidewalks when they are available.

Crossing the Street at Intersections and Crosswalks

If the traffic signal is in your favor, you have the right of way at all intersections and crosswalks.

  •      Caveat: Having the right of way does not mean you can proceed “serenely oblivious of surrounding circumstances.”
  •      Caveat: Having the right of way does not mean you can step out in front of a car when it is too late for the car to stop.

Crossing the Street Anywhere Else

When crossing the street at any point other than in a crosswalk at an intersection, you have a statutory duty to yield the right of way to all vehicles.

What if there is no Sidewalk?

Always run or walk facing traffic.  This way you can see and react to oncoming traffic.

Safety Tips for Runners from Coach Star Ritchey

Obviously, it’s best if you are never hit by a car while running or walking! Star Ritchey , Certified Running Coach and Owner of Midtown Memphis Running Group, Star Runners, gives the following “go-to” safety tips for runners:

  • Run facing traffic. You never want traffic at your back.
  • Never assume that because you see the car, the car sees you.  Be prepared to move.
  • No headphones. If you insist on headphones, only wear 1 earbud.
  • Always wear reflective gear unless it’s daylight.
  • Always wear a Road I.D.

If you are hit by a car, call a personal injury lawyer.

Each case is unique and there are always exceptions to the rules. And remember, the driver of the car has legal duties, too.  If you are a runner or pedestrian and you have been hit by a car, don’t assume you’re automatically at fault. Talk with a lawyer who can give you advice about your particular case.  Don’t just blindly accept as truth what the driver’s insurance company is telling you about fault.

In Tennessee, we have what is called “Comparative Fault.” That means you may be able to recover for your injuries, even if you bear some portion of the fault, as long as your fault isn’t equal to or greater than the driver’s fault.  You need a personal injury lawyer who can sort through the facts and determine whether you are entitled to recovery.

If you are hit by a car, call Wiseman Bray PLLC.

We have a team of experienced trial lawyers here at Wiseman Bray PLLC. Our work is personal and we’d be glad to give you the attention you deserve. If you are a runner or pedestrian and you’ve been hit by a car, please call us at (901) 372-5003 or email us here.

Other Resources for Runners

The Tennessee Department of Transportation website lists the various laws that apply to runners, pedestrians, and drivers.

Texting and Walking? Advice from a Personal Injury Lawyer

texting and walking personal injury lawyer

Texting and Walking:  Advice from a Personal Injury Lawyer

Do you walk and text? If you are like most people, you probably do.  This personal injury lawyer advises you to stop! While we know that texting and driving is dangerous and has been banned in Tennessee, research also shows that pedestrians who are distracted with their phones are more likely to be hit by a vehicle.  According to one analyst, the number of pedestrian injuries due to cell phone use tripled over a a 7 year period (2004-2010), and the numbers continue to rise.

What if a Car Hits Me But I was Texting While Walking?

Call a personal injury lawyer. If you were walking and texting when you were hit, the driver’s insurance company will probably say you were at fault, but that is not necessarily always the case.  You should still speak with a personal injury lawyer about the specific facts of your case. In Tennessee, we have what is called “Comparative Fault.” That means you may be able to recover for your injuries, even if you bear some portion of the fault, as long as your fault isn’t equal to or greater than the driver’s fault.  You need a good personal injury lawyer who can sort through the facts and determine whether you are entitled to recovery.

(1)  Don’t text and walk. If you are injured, it could reduce or even eliminate any damages you would have otherwise been entitled to.

(2)  If you are injured while texting and walking, don’t automatically assume you are at fault. Call an injury lawyer to make sure.

Call Wiseman Bray PLLC. We Can Help.

When you need a lawyer, call Wiseman Bray PLLC. Contact us at 901-372-5003 or email us here.  We take cases throughout Tennessee and Mississippi, including Memphis, Shelby County, Bartlett, Germantown, and Cordova.

Can my Fitbit be used as evidence against me?

Can my Fitbit be used as evidence against me?

By:            Erin Shea

fitbit can be used by injury lawyer

Can my Fitbit® data be used as evidence in court?

As I was driving to work yesterday, I heard an advertisement for a Local News Story on Fox 13 about potential unintended consequences of using one of those trendy new fitness tracker devices, such as the Fitbit®. This piqued my interest for a couple of different reasons: (1) My husband bought me a Fitbit® for my birthday recently, and (2) Part of my job as a lawyer involves looking for information to either support or weaken a particular factual claim being made by someone in a lawsuit, and doesn’t a fitness tracker record accurate and factual information?

Using Fitbit® Data as Evidence in Court Cases

What could be the unintended consequence of using a fitness tracker? Relevant to my job as a lawyer, Fox 13’s story and this article discuss how fitness tracking data can make or break a court case.

I haven’t seen any reported appellate decisions in Tennessee yet discussing the admissibility of fitness tracking data at trial, but I’m sure they are coming. Also, even if the data never sees the inside of a courtroom, there are other uses for it, including using the information to secure other evidence or as a negotiation point during settlement talks.

For example, if a person in a personal injury suit is making a claim that they can no longer walk more than a few steps at a time, but the person’s Fitbit® data shows that the person is taking 20,000 steps a day, I would argue that the claim is being exaggerated.  On a somewhat related topic, I will never forget an old case I worked on where the injured person claimed he could no longer run races, but his social media accounts showed several post-race photographs that were taken after the accident.

Moral of the Story

Don’t forget that your electronic devices, including fitness tracking devices like a Fitbit®, are collecting data and information about you.  Think about how that data might be used to help or hurt you because you can be sure that the lawyers are!

Need a Lawyer?

erin shea, injury lawyer at wiseman bray memphisCall  me or any of the other lawyers at Wiseman Bray PLLC  at (901) 372-5003. We’d be glad to help you. We handle cases in Memphis, Cordova, Germantown, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland,  Shelby County, and throughout Tennessee and Mississippi.  If we can’t help you, we’ll point you in the right direction.

 

Lawsuit Deadlines: How long do I have to file a lawsuit in Tennessee?

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Don’t let lawsuit deadlines kill your case before it even starts.

Why are there statutes of limitation or lawsuit deadlines?

In Tennessee, there are lawsuit deadlines called “statutes of limitations,” so it is important to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible if you believe you may need to file a lawsuit.  If you wait too late, you may lose your ability to seek a remedy or recovery in court.

Statutes of limitation serve a number of purposes.  They promote stability in personal and business relationships; they prevent undue delay in filing lawsuits; they help to avoid uncertainty in pursuing and defending old claims; and they help to ensure that evidence is preserved and not lost due to the lapse of time, fading memories, or death of witnesses or parties.

What time limit applies to my case?

It depends on what kind of case you have. Even our courts sometimes struggle with which statute of limitation applies. Generally, a court looks to the “gravamen” of the complaint to determine which statute of limitation applies. Think of the “gravamen” as the “real purpose” or the “main point” of a lawsuit.

The Tennessee Supreme Court, in Benz-Elliott v. Barrett Enterprises  said that when determining the gravamen of a complaint in order to decide which statute of limitation applies, “a court must first consider the legal basis of the claim and then consider the type of injuries for which damages are sought. This analysis is necessarily fact-intensive and requires a careful examination of the allegations of the complaint as to each claim for the types of injuries asserted and damages sought.”

You may have multiple legal theories and claims available to you in your case, but those claims could have different statutes of limitation that will affect your ability to recover.  Because this analysis can be difficult, and it is to your advantage to include as many viable claims for recovery as possible, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.

Statutes of Limitation in Tennessee for Common Claims

Below are statutes of limitation for common types of claims. There are others, so make sure and consult with an attorney to make sure you understand what time limit applies to your case.

  • Personal injury or wrongful death – 1 year
  • Property damage – 3 years
  • Conversion – 3 years
  • Breach of Contract – 6 years
  • Fraud/Misrepresentation – 3 years
  • Legal or medical malpractice – 1 year
  • Consumer Protection Act claims – 1 year
  • Sale of Goods Contract Claims – 4 years
  • Slander (spoken defamation) – 6 months
  • Libel (written defamation) – 1 year

Exceptions

There are certain exception to the statutes of limitation in Tennessee, but you should never assume an exception will apply to your case. For example, if a person took active steps to keep you from discovering an injury or claim (i.e., fraudulent concealment), then you may have additional time to file suit.

Courts will not allow you extra time to file suit simply because you did not know the applicable statute of limitation, or because you suffered an injury but didn’t find out the full facts or extent of your damage until later in time. Consult with an attorney as soon as you think you have a claim.

Don’t Lose Your Ability to Recover. Call us today.

Statutes of limitations and lawsuit deadlines can kill your case before it even starts. If you think you may have a legal claim against someone, please call us today at 901-372-5003 or email us here. Don’t wait too late and lose your ability to file suit or recover damages. Let the attorneys of Wiseman Bray PLLC help you today.

Bad Road Conditions- Who is Liable for Car Accident?

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Bad Road Conditions- Who is Liable for Car Accident?

Curious about who is responsible for an accident during bad road conditions?

Many of us in Memphis went to bed last night expecting to wake up to a Winter Wonderland. While weather experts predicted several inches of snow and most local schools and businesses announced closures in advance, what we ended up with was just a small dusting of snow. Enough to make our neighborhoods sparkle, but not even enough to build a good snowman.

However, with all the warnings on the news to stay at home and avoid the roads, you might be wondering what the law is concerning car accidents that occur in icy or snowy conditions. What if another driver slides into you, causing significant damage to your car? What about the cars you always see speeding by in icy conditions, without a care in the world? Are they excused from liability just because of the road conditions?

Drivers Are Responsible, Even in Icy or Snowy Conditions

Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-8-136  requires drivers to exercise due care “under the existing circumstances” to avoid crashing into any other vehicle.

This duty was clarified by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in the case of MacLeod v. McKenzie. In MacLeod, a driver lost control of her car in wet road conditions. While the driver argued that she was driving carefully, she admitted that she was driving at or slightly above the speed limit and that she panicked and hit the brakes when her car started to slide. The injured party argued that the driver was driving too fast for the wet condition of the road (even if she was driving the speed limit), and in panicking and losing control of the car once it started to skid. The Court stated that the question of whether a driver exercised due care under the circumstances is a question of fact, which means that a jury should decide.

So, what’s the lesson for driving in bad road conditions?

If you are involved in an accident during bad road conditions, don’t just assume that the other driver is not at fault.  Icy, snowy, or wet road conditions don’t provide a “get out of jail free” card for the other driver. Drivers in Tennessee are always responsible for their actions while driving, regardless of the road conditions.  If a person chooses to drive when road conditions are bad, then he or she is responsible for driving safely and avoiding collisions.

The determination of who is legally responsible for the car accident will depend on a number of factors and there may not be a clear answer.  Even if the other driver was going the speed limit, he or she may still be responsible for the collision, but an insurance adjuster is unlikely to tell you that. This is why you need an experienced lawyer on your side. If you need help with a car accident that occurred in rainy, snowy, or icy road conditions, call us at 901-372-5003.  We know the law and we can help you maximize your claim.

Can I Represent Myself in General Sessions Court?

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Can I represent myself in General Sessions Court?

Can you represent yourself in General Sessions Court?

Yes, you may always represent yourself in any court matter – it’s called proceeding pro se.  However, you may only represent yourself.

If the true party in the case is actually a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) – even if you are the sole shareholder/owner/member – then you may not represent “yourself” because, technically-speaking, a business organization is a distinct legal entity separate and apart from you as a natural person.  And unless you are a lawyer, you cannot represent another person or entity, or else you would be guilty of the unauthorized practice of law, and no Judge will allow that.

Should you represent yourself in General Sessions Court?

If you are the party in the case as an individual, or as a sole proprietorship, then you may always represent yourself.  The real question, though, is should you?  Many people believe General Sessions Court is a “small claims court” similar to the TV court shows where two parties stand at podiums and, with great drama, show or tell the Judge whatever they want. While it is true that General Sessions Court disputes are typically limited to smaller matters under $25,000, and further that any judgment can be appealed to Circuit Court, it would be a mistake to assume that General Sessions Court is somehow informal or easy.

In many cases, litigating in General Sessions Court is easier and less expensive than litigating in Circuit Court. However, General Sessions Court is serious. All parties, even those representing themselves, must follow the Rules of Court and the Tennessee Rules of Evidence and must observe the proper rules of courtroom decorum.  You cannot simply tell or show the Judge whatever you want.

So the question really is this: do you know the Tennessee Rules of Evidence? Do you know what makes a piece of evidence objectionable? Do you know how to lay a proper foundation to get a document or a witness’s testimony admitted in evidence? Attorneys are trained to know the rules and to use them to their client’s advantage. You may have a perfectly winnable case and lose it because you do not know how to properly present evidence.  We’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Many people say they cannot afford an attorney, while others simply don’t want to pay an attorney to handle something they believe they can handle themselves.  However, is the potential of recovering nothing on your claim – or, conversely, subjecting yourself to a judgment that will be reported to creditors – preferable to paying an attorney fee?

Helpful Resources for pro se litigants

If you truly can’t afford to hire an attorney, here are a few resources you may find helpful:

Rules of General Sessions Court (Shelby County)

General Sessions Court–Civil Case Forms

Attorney of the Day Courthouse Project. Each Thursday Memphis Area Legal Services hosts an advice clinic at the Shelby County Courthouse at 140 Adams Avenue in Memphis.  Volunteer attorneys meet with walk-in clients and provide advice and counsel.  The clinic starts at 1:30 p.m. in Room 134 of the Courthouse.

Saturday Legal Clinics. These clinics, also hosted by Memphis Area Legal Services, operate on a first come, first served basis and provide opportunity for members of the community to meet with an attorney to discuss their legal issues.  Volunteer attorneys provide advice, counsel, referrals.   Memphis clinics are held the second Saturday of every month at the Benjamin Hooks Main Library, 3030 Poplar Avenue, starting at 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Covington clinics are held on a Saturday every other month at First Presbyterian Church, 403 S. Main Street, starting at 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

We practice in General Sessions Court. 

The attorneys at Wiseman Bray PLLC regularly practice in General Sessions Courts in Memphis, Shelby County. We know the rules and we will use them to effectively present your case or defense to the Judge. We represent both Plaintiffs and Defendants. If you have a pending General Sessions case, or if you are thinking of suing someone in General Sessions Court, and you’d like to talk to us about it, please call us at 901-372-5003.