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Muller v. Higgins

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

June 29, 2015

RICHARD MULLER
v.
DENNIS HIGGINS, ET AL.

April 15, 2015 Session

Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hamilton County No. 12-C-288 Donald P. Harris, Judge

Danny Ray Ellis and Gary Massey, Jr., Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Richard Muller.

Paul Campbell, III and Ronald D. Wells, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellees, Dennis Higgins, and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.

Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, J., and Thomas R Frierson, II, J., joined.

OPINION

BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE

I. Background and Procedural History

The automobile accident giving rise to this litigation occurred in Hamilton County on Northpoint Boulevard just west of its intersection with Old Hixson Pike. Northpoint Boulevard has one lane of travel in each direction and one middle turn lane that can be accessed by either of the lanes of travel. Just east of the intersection of Northpoint Boulevard and Old Hixson Pike, there is a traffic light where Northpoint Boulevard intersects with Hixson Pike, which runs parallel with Old Hixon Pike.

Immediately before the accident, Dennis Higgins was stopped west of Old Hixson Pike in the eastbound lane of Northpoint Boulevard in a line of cars waiting on the light at the intersection of Northpoint Boulevard and Hixson Pike. Around that time, Richard Muller pulled out of the parking lot of SunTrust Bank, which is located on the north side of Northpoint Boulevard, just west of Old Hixson Pike. Muller was unable to enter the eastbound lane of Northpoint Boulevard because of the line of cars waiting for the light. Instead, he proceeded east in the center turn lane, intending to turn left onto Old Hixson Pike. As Muller was approaching Old Hixson Pike in the center turn lane, Higgins realized he needed to turn left at Hixson Pike. Higgins checked for oncoming traffic in his side mirror and began to move into the center turn lane. As he was doing so, Higgins focused his attention forward to make sure he did not bump the vehicle in front of him. Higgins did not see Muller's car coming up behind him, and Muller did not see Higgins in time to avoid the collision. The left front bumper of Higgins's truck made contact with right side of Muller's car.

Higgins and Muller brought their vehicles to an immediate stop in the middle of Northpoint Boulevard. Higgins's truck received very minor damage to the front bumper. Muller's car sustained damage along the right side. Both drivers pulled into a nearby private driveway to exchange information. A police officer arrived almost immediately. The officer did not observe any signs of injury to either driver, and neither driver reported being hurt. After exchanging information, both drivers got back into their cars and left the scene.

Shortly after the accident, Muller reported having pain primarily in his back and legs.[1] Muller visited an orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed him with a torn meniscus in his left leg. He had surgery to fix the tear in May 2011. Muller also sought treatment for back pain from two separate spine surgeons after the accident.

On February 20, 2012, Muller sued Higgins in Hamilton County Circuit Court, seeking $750, 000 in medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage. Higgins denied liability and asserted that the accident was caused by Muller's negligence. Following a period of discovery, the case proceeded to a jury trial over the course of three days in March 2014. The jury returned a verdict allocating fifty percent fault to each party for the accident, and the trial court entered a judgment on the jury's verdict. After the trial court denied Muller's motion for a new trial, Muller timely filed a notice of appeal to this Court.

II. Issues Presented and Standard of Review

Muller raises the following issues for our review, as we ...


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