Can a Jury Find I’m Responsible for My Own Accident?
A common defense to personal injury claims is “comparative fault.” For example, if you are involved in a car accident and sue the other driver for negligence, the defendant may argue you were also partially at fault for what happened. The jury will then apportion the comparative fault of you and the other driver. Any damages you receive are then reduced to account for your comparative fault–and if the jury decides you were 50 percent or more at fault, you cannot recover anything under Tennessee law.
Court of Appeals: No Evidence That Elderly Victim Caused Her Fall
Of course, before a jury can hold you partially responsible, there must be some actual evidence that you did something wrong. A jury cannot apportion fault without proof. The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently reaffirmed this principle when it reversed a jury verdict that held an elderly woman mostly responsible for her own accident.
In this case, Gilmore v. NOL LLC, the plaintiff is a now-deceased woman who was in her mid-80s at the time of the accident. One day in 2017, the plaintiff attended a physical therapy appointment at a Nashville building owned by the defendant. The building used automatic sliding doors. As the plaintiff left the building following her appointment, the door close as she was standing “just outside the threshold of the doorway,” according to the Court of Appeals. The impact caused the plaintiff to fall and fracture her femur and humerus bones.
The plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit alleged the defendant was negligent in maintaining its automatic doors. The defense argued comparative fault. Following a two-day trial, a jury found the defendant was just 23 percent at-fault for the accident. Having apportioned the other 77 percent to the plaintiff herself, the trial court entered a judgment for the defense.
On appeal, the plaintiff’s estate argued there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict. The Court of Appeals agreed. The only evidence cited by the defendant in support of its comparative fault defense was surveillance video taken at the time of the accident. But what the video showed was the plaintiff standing on the threshold for about 10 seconds before the automatic doors closed on her. The “industry standard” for such doors is actually 30 seconds, the appeals court observed, and there were no warnings posted about any “blind spots” in the doors’ sensors. Given all this, there was simply no way the jury “could have determined that [the plaintiff] engaged in conduct contributing to her fall or failed to act in a way that she could have prevented her fall.” The appeals court therefore said the plaintiff’s estate was entitled to a new trial.
Speak with a Tennessee Accident Attorney Today
Juries sometimes get it wrong. When that happens, you will need experienced Nashville personal injury lawyers at your side to advise you on what steps to take next. If you have been injured in an accident and need legal representation, contact Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation.