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Elliott v. State

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 13, 2017

DENISE ELLIOTT
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Session February 22, 2017.

         Appeal from the Tennessee Claims Commission No. T20140227 Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner.

         This appeal arises from a claim against the State by the driver of a motor vehicle who seeks damages resulting from a single-car accident. Claimant contends the accident was the proximate result of the State's negligence in the design, construction, and maintenance of the roadway where the accident occurred for which the State is liable pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(I). Following a trial, the Claims Commissioner found that Claimant failed to prove the State was negligent in the design, construction, or maintenance of the roadway; therefore, Claimant failed to prove a claim for negligence under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(I). Finding the evidence does not preponderate against the Claims Commission's findings, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Claims Commission Affirmed

          Henry S. Queener, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Denise L. Elliott.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Dawn Jordan, Senior Deputy Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which W. Neal McBrayer and Brandon O. Gibson, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., P.J., M.S.

         Denise Elliott ("Claimant") was involved in a single-car accident on October 12, 2012, as she was exiting Vietnam Veterans Boulevard (State Route 386) on Exit 3, which is a curved exit-ramp where the surface of the road transitions from asphalt to concrete. As she transitioned off the concrete surface onto the asphalt, she claims her tires lost traction due to the fact the asphalt had deteriorated at this transition point and was wet from rain earlier that day. She alleges that this deterioration caused her vehicle to fly off the roadway and roll down an incline. Further, she contends the State caused this dangerous condition because it negligently and repeatedly "patched the problem by piling up asphalt into the unraveled holes next to the concrete." She also claims the State was negligent in the design, construction, and maintenance of the roadway and in failing to erect a proper barrier at the edge of the road to prevent vehicles from rolling down the hill.

         Claimant filed a Notice of Claim with the Division of Claims Administration, asserting a claim against the State for negligence under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(I).[1] The claim was transferred to the Claims Commission. The State denied liability. More specifically, it denied that a dangerous condition existed and denied that a guardrail barrier was necessary.

         The case was tried before the Claims Commissioner from September 15 to 17, 2015, who heard testimony from numerous witnesses. Several officers with the Hendersonville Police Department testified that they had worked multiple single-car wrecks at this location in rainy weather conditions. Additionally, two individuals testified as to having similar accidents at this exit-ramp in wet driving conditions. Further, Claimant and her husband, son, and daughter, testified regarding the injuries Claimant suffered in the accident.

         Additionally, Seth Miller, the police officer who worked the accident in question, testified regarding his observations on the day of Claimant's accident. He stated that there did not appear to be anything functionally wrong with Claimant's vehicle or tires, and that he did not issue Claimant a citation arising from the accident. Officer Miller testified that the roadway was wet on the day in question and had "holes, deep ruts, [and] bumps" due to the natural weathering and expanding of the concrete surface.

         Claimant also presented the expert testimony of Dr. Robert Stammer, Jr., a civil engineer specializing in transportation engineering. Dr. Stammer testified that he reviewed accident reports from other accidents occurring at this exit ramp, as well as the accident report generated by Officer Miller, and that he went to the area of the accident in question to observe the pavement in conditions that were similar to the day of Claimant's accident. Dr. Stammer testified that when he visited the location of the accident he noted "some irregular pavement or . . . pavement distress" occurring at expansion joints on the exit ramp. He stated that these expansion joints were originally built with Portland cement concrete, but over the years were overlaid with bituminous asphalt concrete. When asked whether it is appropriate to patch the expansion joints with bituminous asphalt, Dr. Stammer stated

It's one way that you could do it. Obviously, you could also repair it or put a total overlay. I did not witness when I was out there a total overlay, which would have given them a more uniform surface, but ...

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