Tennessee Dog Bite Cases: No “Big Dog” Exception

Tennessee Dog Bite Cases: No “Big Dog” Exception

dog bite lawyer, dog bite attorney, dog bite casesOur firm handles Tennessee dog bite cases. In the recent case of Moore v. Gaut, the Tennessee Court of Appeals interpreted Tennessee’s 2007 dog bite statute and declined to create a “big dog exception” to the rule generally limiting a dog owner’s liability.

In 1914, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a dog owner is only liable for injuries caused by a dog if the owner knew about the dog’s vicious tendencies.  In fact, contrary to popular belief, there never has been any rule that an injured person prove that a dog previously bit someone before he could recover, although that fact would certainly help to show that a dog owner knew about the tendency of his dog.  In 2007, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted Tenn. Code Ann. § 44-8-413 to address and tweak the law of injuries caused by dogs.  That statute created a distinction between whether injuries by a dog bite occurred on or off the dog owner’s property, for example where a dog is running loose in a neighborhood.  When a dog bite occurs on the dog owner’s property, the statute clearly retains and codifies the common law requirement that the injured person prove that the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities.   By comparison, when a dog is running loose, there is no such requirement.

So what’s the big deal about big dogs?

Nothing according to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In Moore v. Gaut, the plaintiff came to repair a satellite dish on the defendant dog owner’s property.  The defendant had a large Great Dane, which was kept in a fenced-in area of the yard. The plaintiff did not enter the fenced-in portion of the yard where the dog was; however, while the plaintiff was walking beside the fence, the dog jumped up, leaned over the fence, and bit the plaintiff’s face.  In his defense, the dog owner filed a motion for summary judgment (i.e. dismissal) by submitting a sworn affidavit stating that the dog had never bitten or attacked anyone. Since the dog bite occurred on the dog owner’s property, the Court of Appeals agreed that the dog owner was not liable because the owner had been able to show that he had no knowledge or notice that the dog had ever bitten or attacked anyone. The plaintiff, unable to dispute that testimony, urged the Court of Appeals to adopt a “big dog exception” to the rule. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that because Great Danes are an extraordinarily large breed, that the dogs are naturally dangerous based on their size, weight, and strength and that this alone should place the owner on notice of a dangerous propensity.

The Court of Appeals didn’t bite, and declined to carve out an exception for big dogs.

Moral of the Story for Tennessee Dog Bite Cases

If you are bitten or injured by a dog on the dog owner’s property, it is critical to investigate and discover whether the owner knew of the dog’s vicious or dangerous tendencies. That does not necessarily mean that you have to prove that the dog has bitten or injured someone before, but rather some knowledge of the owner of mischievous or potentially rough or dangerous behavior that might cause an injury.

We Represent Dog Bite Victims.

We accept dog bite cases. Hopefully you will never be injured by a dog, but if you are, you need a good lawyer on your side because the proof you need isn’t likely to be the sort of thing the dog owner, or his insurance company, is likely to volunteer. Our team at Wiseman Bray PLLC can help you properly investigate your claim and get the information you need in order to determine if your injury is compensable under Tennessee dog bite law. If you need help, call us at 901-372-5003.

Do I Have a “Slip and Fall” Claim?

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Do you have a slip and fall claim? 

You slipped and fell in a store. You felt embarrassed and hoped no one saw you.  All you wanted was to hurry up and get out of there. Once you reach the privacy of your car, though, you realize you are hurting pretty badly.  But you’re able to drive home where you try to rest, suck it up, and tough it out.  At the urging of a loved one, though, you finally give in and go to the emergency room later that night, or maybe the next day, or a couple days later, because the pain just won’t go away.  Once you get to the ER, tests and x-rays show that you have a small fracture or other problem that will require follow-up care. You begin to wonder if the store is at fault, and whether you might have a claim.

This scenario isn’t uncommon.  Similar thoughts go through the minds of many people who are injured in slip and fall accidents in Tennessee.  To be quite honest, due to the state of the law, it can be difficult to recover for a slip and fall in Tennessee. Sometimes people who are seriously injured in a slip and fall through no fault of their own are simply unable to recover for a variety of reasons. This is why you need a good lawyer on your side as soon as possible after a slip and fall accident.

Elements of a Slip and Fall Claim in Tennessee

slip and fall lawyerTo recover in a slip and fall case, in addition to the general elements of negligence, you must prove either that: (1) the condition that caused your fall was created by the property owner; or (2) the property owner had actual or constructive notice that the condition existed before your fall.  It is absolutely critical that you prove the condition or object that caused the fall.

Speculation about the cause of an injury is not enough to establish liability. The Tennessee Court of Appeals, in Willis v. McDonald’s Restaurants of Tennessee, Inc., recently granted summary judgment to a McDonald’s restaurant because the plaintiff could only say that she stepped on a hard, sharp object, which caused her to fall.  Because she could not identify what specifically caused her to fall, she could not prove that the restaurant either created the condition or knew or should have known about it before she fell.  Therefore, McDonald’s won and the jury never even got to hear the plaintiff’s case.

Why do I need a Slip and Fall Attorney?

An attorney can increase your chances of recovery by taking immediate steps to help you gather and preserve evidence that may help you prove your claim. For example, our firm regularly sends out “spoliation letters” notifying property owners of a potential claim against them and demanding that they preserve any and all evidence concerning that claim. Nowadays, many businesses have video surveillance that can sometimes show when and how a dangerous condition was created and how long it existed before an accident.

memphis slip and fall lawyer personal injury

If you are injured in a slip and fall accident, feel free to call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here. Every case is unique and our personal injury attorneys–Lang Wiseman, Chris Patterson, Erin Shea, and Will Patterson— can help you navigate your particular circumstances.

What should I do if I am involved in a slip and fall?

  • Determine WHAT caused you to fall and document it. Take a picture or write down the specific details.
  • Report your accident. Don’t be embarrassed and just leave. Ask for a manager and explain what happened so that your claim is documented. Before you leave, ask for copies of the accident report and other forms created by the business in response to your report. Even if you later decide not to pursue a claim, go ahead and report your accident as soon as it happens.
  • Ask that any relevant video surveillance be preserved, including footage for the two (2) hour period of time before your fall.
  • Take photographs or video of the scene. Do not worry about the quality.
  • Take note of whether there are any warning signs or barricades in the area of your injury.
  • Write down the contact information for any witnesses. Other customers can sometimes be helpful. Write down the names of the employees in the area and of those who help you.
  • Take photos of your injuries.
  • Seek medical attention as needed.

Click here to see other Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about injury claims.

Medical Care After a Car Wreck

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Been in an Accident? Next Steps for Your Medical Care.

We have clients who have been involved in an accident, whether a car wreck, slip and fall, dog bite, or other injury, and they often ask what they should do about medical care, and whether it will hurt or help their court case. Our answer is always the same:  you and your healthcare providers should make your medical care decisions based purely on what’s best for your health.  No claim or lawsuit should ever affect your medical care decision-making.

Many also have questions about what to do immediately after an accident.  Here are some frequently asked questions and our typical responses. However, remember that each case is unique, and our lawyers can help you navigate your individual circumstances. Call us today at (901) 372-5003.

Should I seek immediate treatment for injuries after a car wreck?

Yes.  It is best to seek prompt medical care so that your injuries can be properly evaluated by trained medical personnel.  According to DMV.org, it’s important to understand that you may have an injury, even if you aren’t totally sure. Many insurance adjusters will hold delays in medical treatment against you, even assuming you were merely trying to do the right thing by taking a conservative, wait-and-see approach.

What if I’m concerned about the cost of medical care?

If you were injured in a car wreck, you may (and should) rely on your health insurance to cover your treatment. If not, but you have automobile insurance, your policy probably contains Medical Payment Coverage up to a certain amount, and so you may be able to recover some of your medical expenses from your own insurance company.  Depending on what happened to you and whether someone else is responsible, you may be also able to recover your medical expenses from someone else’s liability insurance company.

What else should I do after an accident if I think I might have a claim?

If you are able, get the contact information of any eyewitnesses. Get a copy of the Police Report. Take photos of your injuries. If you’ve been in a car accident, take photos of your car and the scene, if possible. If you are involved in a slip and fall or some other type of accident, take photos of the scene of the accident and its condition at the time of your injury. Keep a list of the medical providers you see, and the limitations and pain you suffer. Claims and lawsuits can sometimes take months to resolve, and you will be surprised at how memories fade.  Make a list of any prescription medications or other medicines that you have to take because of the accident, and keep records of the costs. Document any other expenses you incur because of the accident.

What if I have to miss work?

You may be entitled to recover for lost wages. Obtain written documentation from your employer of the days, hours, and wages you missed because of the accident.

Frequently Asked Questions

You can find answers to more Frequently Asked Questions on our website by clicking here.

 

WISEMAN BRAY PLLC

8001 Centerview Parkway, Suite 103

Memphis, Tennessee 38018

(901) 372-5003 Office

www.WisemanBray.com

Put Up or Shut Up is Back

Put Up or Shut Up is Back

WB LogoIn what is generally viewed as a win for defendants in lawsuits, the Tennessee Supreme Court recently reverted to a more lenient summary judgment standard used by courts in Tennessee prior to 2008.  

A summary judgment motion is a procedural tool where a party (typically a defendant) can ask the court to “short circuit” a lawsuit by asking the court to dismiss the suit because there’s no dispute over any material fact, and the case can be resolved on legal grounds.  In federal court, and in Tennessee state court prior to 2008, a defendant could prevail on a motion for summary judgment by simply pointing out that a plaintiff had insufficient evidence to support his claims, even if the court were to assume that all of that evidence was viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.  In order to survive the motion and keep the lawsuit alive, the plaintiff would have to come forward and identify relevant evidence showing that an actual trial was, in fact, necessary.  This summary judgment standard is often referred to as the “put up or shut up” standard since it required a party basically to go ahead and show his cards if he wanted to avoid a dismissal.

In its 2008 opinion in Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., the Supreme Court drastically altered the summary standard to make it harder for a party to get a case dismissed prior to expending considerable time and expense on discovery.  Rather than being able to argue that the plaintiff should “put up or shut up” during the pre-trial stage, the Supreme Court held that a defendant would instead have to affirmatively disprove the plaintiff’s claims in order to avoid a trial, and/or otherwise show that the plaintiff would not be able to prove his claims at the trial. 

A few weeks ago, in Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis, the Tennessee Supreme Court essentially reversed itself, overruling Hannan, and stating that Tennessee courts would again apply the “put up or shut up” standard.  The Court explained that in retrospect, it believed it had misapplied the law in Hannan, and further that the tougher summary judgment standard adopted in Hannan had proved to be unwise and unworkable in practice.

By reverting to the pre-Hannan “put up or shut up” standard, the Supreme Court made it much more likely that certain cases will be resolved on legal grounds without the need for a trial.

“Neighbors said the complex’s security gate hasn’t worked in quite some time.”

“Neighbors said the complex’s security gate hasn’t worked in quite some time.”

WB LogoIt keeps happening.  Almost every day brings another incident of violent crime in Memphis area apartments.  Apartment residents in Memphis have a right to demand that property managers and owners take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable crimes on their premises.

Over the last few years, our litigation attorneys are spending an increasing amount of our time representing crime victims when property owners fail to take these reasonable precautions.  While not every crime is preventable, and not every crime is the result of a failure of property owners, frequently, bottom line profit is placed before safety of residents.

Apartment Complex Crime -Negligent Security-Memphis

crime victim lawyers, apartment complex crime attorney

Apartment Complex Crime -Negligent Security-Memphis

Memphis has more than its share of violence. Apartment complex crime in Memphis is serious. Recently, another man lost his life after being gunned down as he was walking back into his apartment at the Prescott Place Apartments located in the 1700 block of Morlye Street. Not all crime is preventable, but many times property managers and apartment complexes do not have adequate security to deter and prevent crime.

We have significant experience in handling apartment crime and negligent security cases. Investigating and prosecuting these claims can be complex. We often learn that  large out-of-town companies own and operate apartments in high-crime neighborhoods, and do little to protect their residents and visitors. Why do these companies ignore the crime? It’s simple: spending money on security measures cuts into the bottom line.

An apartment complex presents unique security issues that don’t exist in single-family neighborhoods. The layout of the premises often makes it challenging for local police to monitor and patrol the area. Because of this, it is even more important for apartment companies and property managers to be intentional about the security on their property.

Unfortunately, many times security measures such as increased lighting, properly maintained landscaping, and security guard patrols are ignored and residents are left to fend for themselves. When this happens, you can be sure that criminals learn which properties are prime targets. Indeed, in one case we worked on, three criminals actually rode their bikes past several other commercial and residential areas to specifically find a victim at the defendant apartment complex because they knew it was dark and no security guards worked at night. The failure of the apartment complex and property management to implement and maintain reasonable security measures resulted in the complex having a reputation for being a good place to commit crime without getting caught, and our client suffered a catastrophic gunshot wound because of it.

We represent victims of apartment complex crime.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of apartment complex crime in Memphis or if you have been a crime victim on a commercial property and you think that the security measures may not have been reasonable, please feel free to call our firm to see if we can help. We are attorneys for crime victims. Call us at 901-372-5003.

WISEMAN BRAY PLLC

8001 Centerview Parkway, Suite 103

Memphis, Tennessee 38018

(901) 372-5003

Proposed Change in Seat Belt Law Hurts Tennessee Accident Victims

Proposed Change in Seat Belt Law Hurts Tennessee Accident Victims

A proposed bill in the Tennessee Legislature would change a decades-old law that was designed to protect accident victims and protect the taxpayors.

 

Since 1986, the law made it inadmissible in court whether an injured person was wearing his seat belt.  This legal rule makes perfect sense if you stop and think about it for a minute.  Indeed, if a negligent driver causes an accident – let’s say, for example, because he was texting while driving, or perhaps because he was drunk – should he somehow bear LESS responsibility for his actions because the innocent person he crashes into wasn’t wearing a seat belt?

 

Of course not.
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Partially at Fault in a Car Wreck in Tennessee?

Partially at Fault in a Car Wreck in Tennessee?

partially at fault, car wreck lawyer in memphisLaw FAQ: I was in a car wreck in Tennessee, and I may be partially at fault. Do I still have a legal claim?

ANSWER:   Maybe.

You can take comfort in the fact that “slam dunk” cases rarely exist.  There are 2 sides to almost every story.  Indeed, real life is never quite so neat and tidy.  Many car crashes are the result of a number of related factors, circumstances and events on both sides that – when combined together – cause accidents to occur.

For example, someone might have run a red light and pulled out in front of you; however, you might have contributed to the problem by speeding, or not wearing your seat belt, or not paying as close attention to the road as perhaps you should have been.  Thus, while you didn’t necessarily cause the wreck, you may be wondering whether your own speed or inattention may have increased the amount of damage or injury caused.

And so the question is: do you still have a legal claim for your car accident or personal injury?

Well, the answer is: it depends.  Many people are partially at fault and some of them are still able to recover damages in a car wreck case.

Doctrine of Comparative Fault

Under Tennessee law, a defendant in a car wreck case is entitled to point the finger at another person (or multiple persons), including the plaintiff.  In other words, a defendant can ask a jury to assign fault for an accident, either in whole or in part, to someone else.  Legally, this is referred to as the “doctrine of comparative fault” – i.e. the jury is asked to literally compare the fault of the parties.

In practice, this means that the jury will listen to all of the competing evidence and then assign a percentage of fault or negligence to each person alleged to have contributed to the accident.   The total of the percentages must add up to 100%.  The jury is then asked to affix the amount of total damages suffered/incurred.

These fault allocations and damage findings determine whether, and to what extent, a plaintiff is entitled to recover.  Specifically, the damages recoverable by the plaintiff are based on the percentage of fault assigned to the defendant.

  • Example: If the jury finds that there were total damages of $100, and the defendant is assigned 75% of the fault compared to only 25% fault for the plaintiff, then the plaintiff would recover $75 (75% x $100).  The plaintiff wouldn’t be entitled to recover the percentage of damage that he himself caused.

Modified Comparative Fault

Note also that Tennessee follows the doctrine of modified comparative fault.  This means that if the plaintiff is found to be  50% at fault for an accident, then he or she is prohibited from recovering any damages at all. So, even if you are partially at fault for an accident, as long as you’re not 50% at fault, you can still recover.

  • Example:  Using the scenario above involving damages of $100, if the jury were to find the plaintiff and defendant equally at fault (50/50), then the plaintiff would recover $0.

Pure Comparative Fault in Other States

By comparison, some states like Mississippi utilize the doctrine of pure comparative fault, which means that the plaintiff can recover for any fault of the defendant, even a mere 1%.

  • Example:  Using the scenario above, if the car wreck  occurred in Mississippi and the defendant was 1% at fault, then the plaintiff would be able to recover $1, even though the plaintiff was 99% at fault.

Partially at Fault But Think the Other Driver was Responsible?

Each case is unique. It sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. At Wiseman Bray PLLC, we will look at your case and advise you on the best way to proceed. If you have a question involving a  car or trucking accident or a wreck involving serious personal injury, please feel free to call our office at (901) 372-5003 for a FREE consultation.

We Represent Victims of Car Wrecks.

Visit our website to learn more about our work for car accident victims. You can meet our team by clicking here.

Outrageous & Frivolous Lawsuit Verdicts – Fact or Urban Myth?

Outrageous & Frivolous Lawsuit Verdicts – Fact or Urban Myth?

Everybody has probably seen them at one time or another — The Stella Awards — an annual list of the most outrageous lawsuits. The Awards are named after Stella Liebeck, the lady who sued and won a multi-million dollar verdict against McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee on herself.

Some of the more noteworthy Stella Award winners include:

  • The woman who won $1.7 million from Winnebago after putting her RV on cruise control at 70 mph, and then getting up to go make herself a sandwich in the back. She claimed that Winnebago should have warned her that she couldn’t leave the driver’s seat after putting the cruise control on.
  • A 19 year old in Los Angeles won $74,000 in medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord while the teenager was trying to steal a hubcap.
  • A woman who was awarded $80,000 after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store, even though the toddler was her own son.

These examples are humorous, and indeed, the list goes on and on with other silly examples. The only problem is that ALL OF THESE LAWSUITS ARE ENTIRELY FALSE!

Even the underlying McDonald’s hot coffee case itself has reached unwarranted levels of urban myth-ism.  If you want the REAL story behind the case, click here for more info on why the final verdict in that case was actually quite reasonable under the circumstances.

Why do I bring up these awards? Because you wouldn’t believe the number of people I talk to who bring up these “cases” as examples of what’s wrong with our legal system.

The problem is that these wild misconceptions foster the type of false notion perpetuated by insurance companies and politicians who claim that there’s no rhyme or reason to our judicial system — which, of course, is the sort of “problem” that they just happen to have a government solution for.  How convenient.

Well, take it from a lawyer who’s in the trenches everyday: despite what you may hear — the concept of jackpot justice is exceedingly rare.  Are there occasionally exceptions and outlier verdicts? Absolutely. Just like there are times when clearly negligent defendants get away with maiming people.  But both situations are exceptions and hardly the norm.

Is the system expensive and in need of tweaking here and there?  Sure.  Just like everything else in life, it can be improved.

But good policy decisions aren’t made by throwing out the baby with the bathwater — and cutting off people’s legal rights in the meantime — based on urban myths perpetuated as fact.  That makes absolutely no sense at all.

So, don’t believe the hype.  Do your own homework before you fall hook, line and sinker for a story that sounds too crazy to be true.  Because most times, it isn’t.

Scalded Privates: The Short (But Real) Story Behind the Supposedly "Frivolous" McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit

Scalded Privates: The Short (But Real) Story Behind the Supposedly “Frivolous” McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit

“Can you believe it?  Some lady got millions for burning herself with her own hot coffee from McDonald’s!” 

You’ve no doubt heard all the talk before.  The case has become the poster child for so-called frivolous lawsuits and politicians screaming for silly tort reform.  The verdict supposedly represents everything that’s wrong with America and the legal system.

Of course, there’s only one problem: the legend has outgrown the truth.

As Paul Harvey used to say: “And now, here’s the rest of the story.”

  • The plaintiff was Ms. Stella Liebeck.  She was a grandmother who attempted multiple times to settle her case with McDonald’s.  They refused.
  • She wasn’t driving down the street when she got burned.  She was a passenger in a stopped vehicle.  They had ordered coffee at the drive-thru window.  After receiving the order, her grandson pulled his car forward and stopped momentarily so that she could add cream and sugar. The coffee spilled when she was attempting to remove that hard plastic lid from the little cheap styrofoam cup.
  • The coffee wasn’t just hot — it was scalding.  Indeed, it was discovered during the case that McDonald’s actively enforced a requirement that its restaurants keep coffee at 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit — only a few degrees away from the boiling point! By comparison, home coffee makers generally maintain coffee at 135-140 degrees.
  • Notwithstanding, a McDonald’s’ quality assurance manager testified that the company enforced the 185 degree requirement even thought they knew a burn hazard existed with any food substance greater than 140 degrees, and that it was not fit for human consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat, and cause full thickness burn injuries to the skin in only 2-7 seconds.
  • In fact, McDonald’s produced documents showing that there were more than 700 other claims by other people similarly burned by its coffee over a 10- year-period. McDonald’s quite clearly knew the risk involved and simply chose to ignore it.
  • Ms. Liebeck’s injuries were legitimate.  In fact, they were horrendous.  Her vascular surgeon determined that she suffered full thickness burns (3rd degree burns) over 6 percent of her body — including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. (See the photo below if you have a strong enough stomach.)
  • She was hospitalized for 8 days, during which time she underwent skin grafts in her genital area.
  • Despite these grotesque injuries, Ms. Liebeck merely asked McDonald’s to pay for the cost of her medical treatment, and offered to settle the case for only $20,000. They refused.
  • At the end of the day, this wasn’t a runaway jury.  Indeed, Ms. Liebeck was only awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages. And even this amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Ms. Liebeck 20 percent at fault for the spill, and thus they made a corresponding 20% reduction to the damages.
  • Based on the evidence of past claims and McDonald’s conscious decision to ignore a substantial risk, the jury also awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages.  The idea behind punitive damages is to make sure the defendant is properly motivated to change its conduct by taking into account the fact that there were other instances of egregious damages for which they might have escaped appropriate responsibility. And even then, the $2.7 million punitive verdict only equaled about 2 days of coffee sales at McDonald’s.  2 whole days.
  • And the court reduced even that amount to only $480,000.

So take a look at the photo and ask yourself whether you’d willingly trade those injuries and skin grafts to genitalia for a mere $600,000.

No way.  Not me.  No thanks.

Doesn’t sound so “frivolous” anymore, does it?