Tennessee Court Rules that Affidavit is Not Conclusive Evidence of Lack of Material Fact

In cases in which summary judgment motions are filed, the movant must be able to establish that there are no material factual disputes that would create genuine issues for trial. It is only in the absence of any factual discrepancies that a court will conclude, prior to trial, that one party is entitled to summary judgment. Sometimes, in an effort to establish a lack of material facts, one party will assert that his or her recollection of an incident is the definitive story of what happened, and, thus, the issue is without dispute. This is often done through an affidavit or the testimony of a deponent. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at whether an affidavit is sufficient to warrant summary judgment.

In a truck accident case, V.H. brought a claim against Buddy Head Livestock & Trucking for injuries arising out of an accident that occurred in 2011. At the time, V.H. was driving his truck on Interstate 40 when he noticed an overturned truck ahead of him, completely blocking the road. V.H. was unable to stop to avoid the truck and collided with it. He suffered injuries in the accident. Shortly thereafter, he sued the driver of the truck, M.H., and his employer, Buddy Head.  In response to the complaint, Buddy Head contended that its employee, M.H., was not negligent because he had been forced off the road by a third, unidentified truck, and it was only as a result of this truck’s actions that his own truck flipped. During discovery, V.H. was unable to locate and subpoena M.H., and he could not take a deposition of him. Instead, Buddy Head filed a motion for summary judgment against V.H. and attached an affidavit from M.H., attesting to the fact that he had been driving safely on the road when he was cut off by another tractor trailer and forced off the road. Buddy Head also filed an additional affidavit from a road reconstruction expert who purported to confirm M.H.’s story. On the basis of these two affidavits, the lower court determined there were no genuine issues of material fact to suggest that M.H. had breached any duty he owed to V.H. and granted Buddy Head summary judgment. V.H. appealed.

In considering the appeal, the appellate court noted that a party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of either negating an element of the nonmoving party’s claim or showing that the evidence is insufficient to establish the nonmoving party’s claim, thereby creating an absence of any material disputed facts. Here, the appeals court noted that the primary question was whether V.H. had presented sufficient evidence of a breach of a duty of care and whether M.H. had acted with reasonable care prior to the overturning of his vehicle. While Buddy Head argued that it was uncontroverted that M.H. had acted with reasonable care because he stated that he did so in his affidavit, the appeals court held that this was not the final determiner of summary judgment. It noted that even though M.H. stated he was acting as best he could in response to a sudden emergency, this did not definitively excuse him from liability, since it was still possible that he might have responded without reasonable care or acted negligently in responding to this sudden emergency. The appeals court noted that a reasonable juror might have found that M.H.’s sudden reaction, which led to his vehicle overturning, was in fact not reasonable and that this contributed to V.H.’s accident and injuries. In total, the court held that since reasonable jurors could differ on M.H.’s potential liability, summary judgment should not have been granted. Accordingly, it overturned the lower court’s decision and remanded for further consideration.

Moving for summary judgment can be a very good strategic move for litigants, since it helps to avoid further litigation expenses, can clarify issues for trial, and allows parties to get a better sense of the court’s approach and attitude toward the case before it. However, any party who chooses to move for summary judgment must be certain that he or she has sufficient evidence to negate an element of the other party’s claim or show that the other party simply has insufficient evidence to support a claim. Tennessee truck accident attorney Eric Beasley is an experienced trial lawyer and advocate who can help you prepare a strong case for summary judgment or advise you if summary judgment is not appropriate based on the facts of your case. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Emphasizes That Dangerous Conditions Must Actually Cause Harm, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 3, 2017.

Tennessee Court Denies Sudden Emergency Defense in Car Accident Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 11, 2017.

Sixth Circuit Denies Negligence Claim For Lack of Physical Injury, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, September 21, 2016.