Waivers and Releases Do Not Eliminate Liability for Gross Negligence: Ask the Injury Lawyer

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Tennessee Law on Contracting Away Liability

Chances are you’ve signed a Waiver or Release of Liability. Maybe you were going whitewater rafting or visited an indoor trampoline or “bouncy house” park. Businesses providing recreational activities generally require you to sign a form with lots of fine print before you can participate. These forms generally absolve the business of liability if you get hurt. Is that legal? Yes.  But there’s one thing to remember: In Tennessee, a person or business cannot contract away liability for “gross negligence.” That’s why you need to consult with a personal injury lawyer if you are injured, but someone tells you they’re not responsible because you signed a Release or Waiver.

Tennessee law allows people to enter into contracts that say that ABC will not be liable and that XYZ is “assuming the risk,” including the risk that ABC might commit negligence.  However, the law says that such a contract will not protect ABC if ABC is guilty of gross negligence. Buckner v. Varner, 793 S.W.2d 939, 941 (Tenn. Ct. App.1990).

What is Gross Negligence?

What is gross negligence and how is it different from regular negligence?  Regular negligence is the failure to use ordinary or reasonable care.  Gross negligence involves a higher degree of “bad” conduct and callous indifference to consequences. That’s why Tennessee law won’t allow people to contract away liability for gross negligence.  However, it’s harder to prove that someone committed gross negligence. You have to show:

  • The person committed ordinary negligence, and
  • The person acted “with utter unconcern for the safety of others, or … with such a reckless disregard for the rights of others that a conscious indifference to consequences is implied . . .” Leatherwood Wadley, 121 S.W.3d 682, 693–94 (Tenn. Ct. App.2003).

Consult with an Injury Lawyer

If you are injured or hurt while participating in a recreational activity, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer. Don’t automatically assume that you can’t recover because you signed a Release or Waiver. A personal injury lawyer can examine the language of any form you signed and can advise you whether you might have a claim.

Need an Injury Lawyer? We can help.

Call Wiseman Bray PLLC at (901) 372-5003 or email us here.  Visit our website to learn more about us and our work. Offices in Memphis and Nashville.

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.

Dog Bite Lawyer: Loose Dogs Can Mean Strict Liability for Injuries.

Dog Bite Lawyer

dog bite lawyer

Loose dogs can mean strict liability.

More advice from a dog bite lawyer. A few days ago, we posted about dog bites that occur on the property of the dog owner and how, in order for the dog owner to be held liable, the injured person must show that the dog owner had some kind of notice of the dog’s dangerous tendencies.  But what happens if, for example, you are walking down the sidewalk or enjoying a run in the park and a dog attacks you? What if your own dog breaks loose, runs away from home, and later bites a stranger down the street?

The Tennessee dog bite statute ( Tenn. Code Ann. 44-8-413) treats dog bites differently depending on where they occur.  Injuries that occur when a dog is running loose in a public place result in the strict liability of the dog owner.   Dog owners have a duty to keep their dogs under reasonable control at all times and to keep them from “running at large.” “Running at large” essentially means the dog is loose and uncontrolled either on public property or on someone else’s private property. Unlike in cases where a dog bite occurs on the dog owner’s property, liability for a dog “running at large” does not hinge upon whether the dog’s owner knew or should have known of any dangerous tendencies of the dog.  As usual, there are exceptions to this general rule, such as when the injured person harasses or provokes the dog.

Important Points to Consider

  • It is a huge risk to allow your dog to run free without a leash. If your dog bites or injures another person while running free and uncontrolled, you will most likely be held liable, even if your dog has never injured or bitten anyone before. Your insurance company may or may not assign a dog bite lawyer to represent you.

 

  • If you are bitten by a dog who is running loose, you are probably entitled to compensation for your injuries by the dog’s owner. Call a dog bite lawyer.  Don’t be lulled into feeling sorry for the dog’s owner, who may be frantically and actively trying to regain control of the dog. The owner will probably be very apologetic, will be very upset, and will tell you that the dog has never bitten anyone before.  None of this matters, though. Most likely, the dog’s owner will have applicable liability insurance. You should not be saddled with medical expenses you incurred through no fault of your own and the Tennessee legislature has provided you with the means to achieve fair compensation.  Business is business, even if you are a dog lover yourself.

 

I am a Dog Bite Lawyer if you need help.

If you have questions about a dog bite or other injuries caused by a dog or other animal, please call me or one of the other lawyers at Wiseman Bray PLLC at 901-372-5003.  We have experience representing both dog owners and people who have been injured by dogs.

dog bite lawyer at wiseman bray memphis, erin shea

Erin Shea, One of the Dog Bite Lawyers at Wiseman Bray PLLC

Apartment Complex Crime – Memphis Attorneys

We continue to read about apartment complex shootings in Memphis and can’t help but wonder what kind of security measures were in place at these complexes. Could a more thoughtful security plan have prevented these tragic deaths and injuries?

Recent Apartment Complex Shootings in Memphis

Edison Apartments: Man Shot at Downtown Apartments

Alden Gate Apartments: Two in critical condition after shooting

Abandoned Apartment Complex: Double Shooting at Memphis Apartment Complex

Whitehaven View Apartments: Woman Shot in South Memphis Apartment Complex

Duty to Provide Reasonable Security in Tennessee

 apartment complex shootings

Did you know that in TN, apartment complexes usually have a duty to provide reasonable security measures?  Each case is different, but in some cases, a crime victim injured on apartment complex property may be entitled to money damages from the apartment complex or its owner.

Wait a Minute— I Can Recover Against the Apartment Complex Even Though a Criminal Shot Me?

Yes, in some cases.  It depends on the facts of your case and the security measures that were or were not in place at the apartment complex. Every case is unique. It is important to call an experienced apartment complex shooting lawyer to discuss your car.

We Represent Victims of Apartment Complex Shootings.

Do you have questions about a potential case against an apartment complex based on the acts of a criminal assailant? Our law firm has significant experience in this type of case. We have represented clients who have been shot at apartment complexes and we’ve helped them obtain compensation for their injuries. Not only do we have the necessary experience in this kind of case, but we treat our clients like family. You will never feel like a “file on a shelf” at Wiseman Bray PLLC.

Call us today at (901) 372-5003 or email us here.