June 30, 2010

Court reviews whether trial court properly found for the State and granted a new trial to 2nd Defendant in a case involving interstate "crash cushions"


Reginald Smith ("the Decedent") died when the exposed metal edge of a device known as a "Guardrail Energy-Absorbing Terminal" ("the crash cushion") penetrated the window of the cab of his moving overturned tractor-trailer and cut him nearly in half.

His son, Reginald Denard Usher ("the plaintiff"), filed this action in the trial court against Charles Blaylock & Sons, Inc. The plaintiff also filed a claim against the State with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The essence of the claims is that the crash cushion was negligently placed at the end of a series of concrete barriers that served to separate traffic entering on and exiting from the roadway connecting to the temporary end of Interstate 140 in Blount County.

The alleged negligence was the failure to install a "transition panel" between the last concrete barrier and the crash cushion. Such a panel is designed to cover the otherwise exposed edge of the crash cushion thereby preventing vehicles from "snagging" the exposed metal edge. Eventually, the claim against the State was joined with the claim against Blaylock.

The case was tried to a jury with the circuit judge sitting as the Claims Commissioner; the jury was utilized by the trial judge in an advisory capacity with regard to the claim against the State. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The jury found that the plaintiff's total damages were $2,000,000. It apportioned fault 25% to the Decedent, 37.5% to the State, and 37.5% to Blaylock. Acting as the Claims Commissioner, the trial court went against the advice of the jury and dismissed the claim against the State. The court found (1) that the plaintiff failed to carry the burden of proof with respect to the applicable standard of care for installing crash cushions; (2) that the plaintiff failed to prove a breach of duty; and (3) that, in any event, the Decedent was at least 50% at fault for speeding through a construction zone in foggy conditions.

Later, the trial court granted Blalock's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and entered judgment in its favor. The court held (1) that Blalock was not responsible, as a matter of law, for leaving off the transition panel because the State's inspector on the scene "directed" Blalock to leave it off; (2) that the plaintiff failed to carry the burden of proving, by expert testimony, what a reasonably prudent contractor would have done under the circumstances; and (3) again, that the Decedent was at least 50% at fault. The court, acting as 13th juror, conditionally granted Blalock a new trial in the event the judgment in its favor was vacated or reversed. The plaintiff appeals.

We affirm the judgment in favor of the State. We vacate the judgment in favor of Blalock and remand for a new trial as to that defendant.

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June 25, 2010

Court reviews whether a contractor can prosecute a subcontractor's claim against TDOT on their behalf as a "pass-through" claim


Kay and Kay Contracting, LLC ("Contractor") entered into a contract with the Tennessee Department of Transportation ("TDOT") to build a bridge in Campbell County, Tennessee. Contractor subsequently entered into a subcontract with Whitley County Stone, LLC ("Subcontractor") to provide the excavation and grading work on the project. Subcontractor does not have a written contract with TDOT.

Both Contractor and Subcontractor filed claims with the Claims Commission alleging they were owed money by TDOT. Subcontractor was dismissed as a party because it did not have a written contract with TDOT, as required by Tenn. Code Ann. section 9-8-307(a)(1)(L). The Commissioner, however, determined that Contractor was allowed to prosecute Subcontractor's claim as a "pass-through" claim. The sole issue on this interlocutory appeal is whether Tenn. Code Ann. section 9-8-307(a)(1)(L) removes the State's sovereign immunity such that Contractor can assert a "pass-through" claim against TDOT on Subcontractor's behalf. We conclude that sovereign immunity from such a claim is not removed, and we reverse the judgment of the Claims Commission.

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Court reviews whether trial court properly found that Appellant was an unlicensed contractor

GLEN CRUZEN v. AYMAN AWAD (Tenn. Ct. App. June 25, 2010)

This case arises out of the alleged breach of a contractual agreement entered by and between Appellant and Appellee for the repair and renovation of a commercial building. Appellant filed suit, asserting that Appellee had failed to fully compensate Appellant for his work on the building. The trial court granted Appellee's motion for summary judgment, finding that Appellant was an unlicensed contractor under Tenn. Code Ann. secton 62-6-102, and that his recovery was, therefore, limited to actual documented expenses under Tenn. Code Ann. section 62-6-103(b). Finding no error, we affirm.

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