Session November 21, 2016
from the Circuit Court for Hamilton County No. 13C374 John B.
personal injury and contract reformation case, the plaintiff
filed a complaint, seeking damages resulting from a motor
vehicle collision and reformation of a release of all claims
signed by the plaintiff. As grounds for reformation, the
plaintiff claimed that an agent of the defendant company
fraudulently induced the plaintiff to sign the release. The
defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that
the plaintiff could not establish an essential element of his
action because the plaintiff did not act promptly in seeking
reformation of the release. The trial court granted summary
judgment in favor of the defendant upon finding, as a matter
of law, that the plaintiff's action was not prompt after
discovery of the alleged fraud and that the plaintiff
therefore was not entitled to reformation of the release. The
plaintiff timely appealed. Having determined that the
question of whether the plaintiff's actions were
sufficiently prompt in seeking the equitable relief of
reformation presents a genuine issue of material fact, we
reverse the trial court's grant of summary judgment in
favor of the defendant.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed; Case Remanded
R. Ellis, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Gary
Stephen Powers and Travis B. Holly, Chattanooga, Tennessee,
for the appellee, J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.
R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Charles D. Susano, Jr., and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ.,
R. FRIERSON, II, JUDGE.
instant action arises from an automobile accident occurring
on March 13, 2012, in Hamilton County. The plaintiff, Gary
Walter Voigt, filed his complaint against Michael Plate and
J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. ("J.B. Hunt") on March 7,
2013, seeking damages for the injuries Mr. Voigt sustained in
the motor vehicle collision. Mr. Voigt later amended his
complaint to request reformation of a release of all claims
he signed in connection with an early settlement with J.B.
appears to be no dispute that Mr. Plate operated a
semi-trailer truck in the scope of his employment with J.B.
Hunt at the time of the accident. According to Mr.
Voigt's complaint, the accident occurred when Mr.
Plate's "semi-trailer jackknifed" and
"violently slammed into Mr. Voigt's vehicle, "
which "caus[ed] [Mr. Voigt] to lose control and slam
into the barrier wall." Mr. Voigt was allegedly injured
in the collision and was transported to the emergency room at
Memorial Hospital by his wife. While at the scene of the
collision, Mr. Plate presented Mr. Voigt with a document
purportedly releasing J.B. Hunt from all liability for the
collision. Mr. Voigt refused to sign the document.
day of the accident, J.B. Hunt hired an investigator, Harry
Gilbert Jones, to investigate the collision and Mr.
Voigt's claimed damages. Mr. Jones immediately contacted
Mr. Voigt on March 13, 2012, and discussed a settlement
between J.B. Hunt and Mr. Voigt. During negotiations, Mr.
Jones wrote down items discussed concerning the settlement,
Value of Vehicle:
Lost Wages ($200.00 per day for three days):
the discussions, Mr. Jones authorized payment of Mr.
Voigt's wrecker service bill of $228.70 on behalf of J.B.
Hunt. According to the proposed settlement, Mr. Voigt would
be allowed to retain the salvage value of his vehicle. It is
undisputed that Mr. Jones did not inquire regarding the
amount of Mr. Voigt's medical bills or any necessary
follow-up treatment resulting from the injuries sustained in
the collision. However, Mr. Jones was aware that Mr. Voigt
was injured during the collision and that Mr. Voigt had been
to the hospital for treatment of those injuries.
to Mr. Voigt's deposition testimony, Mr. Jones rounded
the settlement amount to $10, 000.00 to settle the property
damage portion of the claim while leaving the personal injury
claim open. To reach the $10, 000.00 settlement, Mr. Jones
testified that he allocated the remaining $215.00 as payment
for "personal injury, " without discussing it with
Mr. Voigt, because he "needed to put something down in
[his] report to [J.B. Hunt] to get the $10, 000." Mr.
Jones further explained that he did not present the
negotiation report to Mr. Voigt and did not discuss with Mr.
Voigt that the $215.00 would be allocated toward his personal
Mr. Voigt and J.B. Hunt reached an agreement that J.B. Hunt
would pay $10, 000.00 to Mr. Voigt. On March 15, 2012, Mr.
Voigt and his wife, Ruth Angela Voigt, signed a document
captioned, "RELEASE OF ALL CLAIMS, " releasing J.B.
Hunt and Mr. Plate
from any and all claims, actions, causes of action, demands,
rights, damages, costs, loss of service, expenses and
compensation whatsoever, which [Mr. and Ms. Voigt] now has .
. . or which may hereafter accrue on account of or in any way
growing out of any and all known and unknown, foreseen and
unforeseen bodily and personal injuries and property damage
and the consequences thereof resulting or to result from the
accident, casualty or event which occurred on or about the
13th day of March 2012 . . . .
to Mr. Voigt, he understood that he was only signing a
release for claims regarding lost wages, property damage, and
a rental car, believing that the personal injury portion of
his claim would remain open. Mr. Voigt acknowledged reading
the release prior to signing it but indicated that he did not
understand that the release would preclude his personal
injury and medical claims. Mr. Voigt testified that prior to
signing the release, Mr. Jones informed him: "Regardless
of what we sign, J.B. Hunt is still responsible for your
medical expenses." Mr. Voigt further testified that he
had relied on Mr. Jones's statements regarding the
meaning of the release when he made the decision to sign it.
In his deposition, Mr. Jones stated that Mr. Voigt did not at
any time explain that he wished not to settle his personal
injury or medical claims. Mr. Jones insisted that the
settlement included all claims.
Voigt executed an affidavit, stating that she was present
during the negotiations. She confirmed that an individual
employed by J.B. Hunt informed her and her husband that J.B.
Hunt would remain liable for Mr. Voigt's medical expenses
and that the release was only applicable to Mr. Voigt's
property damage claims. Relative to the release, Criswell
Claim Services issued a check to Mr. and Ms. Voigt, on behalf
of J.B. Hunt, in the amount of $10, 000.00. The check
included a notation reflecting: "FULL AND FINAL
SETTLEMENT." The Voigts deposited the funds into their
account at Chattanooga Federal Employees Credit Union.
deposition, Mr. Voigt further testified that he was contacted
by a claims adjuster employed by his automobile insurance
carrier, State Farm Insurance Company ("State
Farm"), in April 2012, approximately three weeks
following the accident. The claims adjuster stated that she
was having difficulty contacting Mr. Jones. At her request,
Mr. Voigt faxed the adjuster a copy of the signed release.
The insurance adjuster then informed Mr. Voigt that State
Farm would no longer cover any past or future medical
expenses that Mr. Voigt incurred resulting from the collision
because the signed release jeopardized State Farm's
ability to seek subrogation against J.B. Hunt for such
medical expenses. Mr. Voigt related that he spoke to Mr.
Jones following his conversation with the adjuster and
explained to Mr. Jones how his insurance coverage had been
affected by the release. According to Mr. Voigt, during a
conference telephone call including Mr. Voigt, the adjuster,
and Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones informed both Mr. Voigt and the
adjuster that J.B. Hunt was still responsible for Mr.
Voigt's medical bills and directed State Farm to send Mr.
Voigt's medical bills to him so he could forward them to
J.B. Hunt. Mr. Jones did not recall such a telephone
conference occurring. Both Mr. Voigt and Mr. Jones testified
that State Farm sent Mr. Voigt's medical bills to Mr.
Jones and that Mr. Jones forwarded them to J.B. Hunt.
Jones provided Mr. Voigt with contact information for a
representative at J.B. Hunt to discuss payment of the medical
expenses. Mr. Voigt testified that he contacted the J.B. Hunt
representative, who informed him that "it was very
unusual for somebody to send [J.B. Hunt] medical bills after
a settlement is signed" but that J.B. Hunt would
consider the medical bills and whether to pay them. According
to Mr. Voigt, that was the final conversation he had with a
representative of J.B. Hunt. Thereafter, in May 2012, Mr.
Voigt obtained legal counsel.
Voigt subsequently filed the instant action on March 7, 2013,
seeking damages for personal injuries resulting from the
motor vehicle collision. Specifically, Mr. Voigt averred that
Mr. Plate violated motor vehicle traffic laws, failed to
exercise due care, and was liable under theories of common
law negligence and negligence per se. Mr. Voigt
sought damages in the amount of $250, 000.00. On April 15,
2013, J.B. Hunt filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to
Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), asserting that
Mr. Voigt had failed to state a claim on which relief could
be granted because he was not entitled to recovery due to the
previously signed release. On June 7, 2013, Mr. Voigt
responded in opposition to the motion to dismiss, alleging
that he was fraudulently induced into signing the release and
requesting reformation of the release document.
Mr. Voigt's motion, the trial court subsequently entered
an order granting permission to amend the complaint. Filing
his amended complaint on June 26, 2013, Mr. Voigt requested
reformation of the release on the basis of Mr. Jones's
fraudulent misrepresentations, which purportedly induced Mr.
Voigt to execute the release. Mr. Voigt requested reformation
of the release such that "the terms that only the value
of the car, lost wages, and rental fees [would be]
released." On July 15, 2013, J.B. Hunt filed an answer
to Mr. Voigt's amended complaint, denying the additional
allegations. J.B. Hunt contended that Mr. Voigt was not
prompt in seeking contract reformation after his discovery of
the alleged fraud and that Mr. Voigt failed to tender back to
J.B. Hunt the proceeds received in exchange for executing the
December 19, 2013, J.B Hunt filed a motion for summary
judgment, asserting that Mr. Voigt could not prove an
essential element of his action because he had failed to seek
prompt relief when he received notice of the alleged fraud,
thereby precluding him from being granted reformation of the
contract. J.B. Hunt also claimed that ...