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Proving Different Types of Damages in Your Tennessee Auto Accident Case

Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC

In auto accident cases, Tennessee law may allow you to recover damages for many different reasons. Damages can include medical expenses, past and future loss of wages or earning capacity, past and future pain and suffering, permanent impairment, and the loss of the ability to enjoy life, among other things. Understanding which types of damages may be available to you and which kinds of proof you need to secure such a damages award are just some of the many ways that an experienced Tennessee injury attorney can help you.

A case in which many of these types of damages were at issue was recently decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The plaintiff was a Middle Tennessee driver who was injured in a June 2013 crash. The crash was a result of the other driver’s running a red light and T-boning the plaintiff’s car on the driver’s side; she was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a strain of her thoracic spine and a knee contusion. Experiencing additional pain and muscle spasms, she went to another hospital and, later, began treatment with a chiropractor, from whom she received 39 treatments.

The following year, the woman sued the at-fault driver, and, since that driver was acting in the scope of his employment when he hit her, the woman also sued the employer. In this case, the employer admitted liability, and the trial revolved solely around the extent of the plaintiff’s damages. At the trial’s end, the judge awarded the plaintiff $271,378, making separate awards (as is permitted under Tennessee law) for past medical expenses, past lost wages, lost future earnings, past and future pain and suffering, past and future loss of enjoyment of life, and permanent impairment. The defendant appealed almost all of the areas of damages awarded, and the appeals court reversed several of the damage awards for further consideration. The case makes clear that each item of damages is separate, and must be separately supported by evidence specific to the damages at issue.

When it comes to past medical expenses, which was one of the areas of damages awarded in this case, there are two things that are key. One is clear evidence of the financial damages incurred, and the other is proof that the expenditures made were both medically necessary and related to the accident. This means that you’ll need documentation like medical bills or invoices, and you also need proof tying those expenditures to your wreck. For this plaintiff, her proof was enough to substantiate roughly $10,000 of the $13,000 in past medical expenses that the trial court awarded.

The largest award of damages in the case — over $169,000 for lost future earnings — was also contested on appeal. The plaintiff had introduced evidence to show quite specifically how her injury had affected her ability to work and the amount of time she lost from work as a result. The court therefore upheld the award for past lost earnings. But, the plaintiff seemingly failed to show specifically how her ongoing impairment would continue to affect her work in the future, and also introduced no medical testimony supporting that argument. Thus, the appeals court reversed that portion of the award and directed the trial court to reconsider the issue.

Regarding pain and suffering, proving that type of harm often entails a combination of testimony from the plaintiff, other supporting fact witnesses, as well as proof from medical providers. In this case, the plaintiff testified regarding the pain and suffering she had gone through as result of the accident, and the court found her to be a believable witness. The medical records evidence the plaintiff submitted further backed up that testimony, since it gave the court “additional evidence of pain she experienced in her back.” However, the medical testimony also indicated that the plaintiff had generally healed from the injury and was no longer treating with a medical doctor. Even though the plaintiff testified that her pain was ongoing at the time of trial, the court reversed the award of future pain and suffering because there was insufficient medical evidence to support an ongoing problem.

The court then addressed the the award for permanent impairment. Finding that there was medical testimony that the plaintiff had a permanent impairment in her back, also supported by the plaintiff’s testimony that she was limited in her activities, the appeals court upheld the award for permanent impairment. This is a somewhat bizarre and illogical result: the court found sufficient evidence to support an award for permanent impairment but that the same evidence was insufficient to support an award of future pain and suffering.

Another type of damages available in Tennessee is the loss of the ability to enjoy life. This often revolves around ways in which your injury has limited or prevented your participation in activities. This often involves testimonial evidence. The plaintiff, along with her son and her friend, testified that she enjoyed bowling, taking road trips, and going on walks, but she was limited in doing all of these things in the aftermath of the accident. That proof, the appeals court concluded, was enough to justify awards of both past and future losses of the ability to enjoy life.

In allowing separate and specific awards for multiple items of damages, Tennessee law provides a plaintiff the ability to recover as fully as possible for the damages they suffer as a result of another’s negligence. However, a plaintiff needs to be particularly cautious at trial to ensure that evidence directly addressing each item of damages is properly introduced.

No matter the facts of your auto accident and whichever types of damages you may seek, a knowledgeable Tennessee injury attorney can help you as you pursue your case. The Tennessee car accident attorneys at the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PSC are here to help you seek the recovery you need. We have helped many injured people over the years and are ready to speak to you.

Reach us online or call (615) 975-7882.

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