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Lane v. Estate of Leggett

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 29, 2017

RICHARD LANE, ET AL.
v.
ESTATE OF GARY K. LEGGETT

          Session Date: January 17, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sumner County No. 83CC12014CV59 Joe Thompson, Judge

         This appeal arises from an action to recover for emotional injuries allegedly sustained when the decedent/defendant's automobile drove into Plaintiff's business, struck a gas meter, and started a fire, which destroyed the business. The Plaintiff filed suit alleging causes of action for negligence and negligence per se and sought damages for emotional distress. The Defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that Tennessee law does not recognize a cause of action for emotional injuries arising out of damage to or loss of property. The trial court granted summary judgment to Defendant on the negligent infliction of emotional distress claims, finding that Plaintiff did not establish that the injury was the proximate and foreseeable result of the Defendant's negligence. The court dismissed the remaining claim on the basis of the prior suit pending doctrine due to a pending interpleader action filed by Defendant's liability insurer. Plaintiff appeals; we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Benjamin K. Dean, Springfield, Tennessee, for the appellant, Richard Lane.

          Louis Andrew McElroy, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Joe R. Johnson, Estate of Gary Leggett.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.

          OPINION

          RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Richard Lane operated an antique business, gift shop, and garden center located on Highway 31W in White House, Tennessee. On January 22, 2013, Gary Leggett was driving his vehicle on Highway 31W when he rear-ended another vehicle, left the roadway at a high rate of speed, and ran the vehicle into the building that housed Mr. Lane's business. The vehicle struck the building's natural gas meter, resulting in a fire that burned for several hours and caused the complete loss of the business. Mr. Lane was not at the business at the time but returned upon being alerted that it was on fire. Mr. Leggett died at the scene as a result of the accident.

         On January 22, 2014, Mr. Lane ("Plaintiff") filed suit against Mr. Leggett's estate ("Defendant"), alleging that Mr. Leggett's negligence resulted in a collision that caused "the Plaintiff's business and contents [to be] damaged and consumed by a great fire" and that "[a]s a result of observing the fire and the circumstances surrounding the same, including having narrowly escaped being present when the incident occurred, the Plaintiff has been caused severe mental and emotional injuries and has had to seek the assistance of a psychologist and psychiatrist . . . [and] has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety."

         Lane subsequently amended his complaint by naming a different administrator ad litem, [1] adding the phrase "reckless" to his description of the decedent's operation of his vehicle, and adding the phrase "and his reckless and wanton acts" to a sentence in the prayer for relief. Defendant answered, generally denying liability and asserting that "the Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. . . . More specifically, Plaintiff is making a claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress against this Defendant for alleged property damage. A relief for said claim is not provided under Tennessee Law."

         Defendant subsequently moved for summary judgment, contending that negligent infliction of emotional distress is not a cause of action intended to permit recovery for emotional distress arising in connection with property damage. Along with the motion, Defendant filed a statement of undisputed facts that quoted from four paragraphs in the amended complaint:[2]

1. Plaintiff, Richard R. Lane, at the time of the incident in issue, operated an antique business, gift shop and garden center at 3210 Highway 31W,

White House, Tennessee 37188. (Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Paragraph 1).

2. On or about January 22, 2013, the Defendant/Decedent was driving Southbound on Highway 31W in White House, Tennessee. (Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Paragraph 4).
3.After having rear ended another vehicle and leaving the scene at a high rate of speed, the Defendant proceeded down Highway 31W until such time as he exited the roadway and collided with . . . the structure of the Plaintiff's business located at 3210 Highway 31W, White House, Tennessee 37188. (Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Paragraph 4).
4. As a result of the collision between the Defendant/Decedent and the Plaintiff's business, the Plaintiff's business and contents were damaged and consumed by a great fire which was caused by the Defendant having struck the natural gas meter to the business. The Plaintiff had just left the building approximately 15 minutes ...

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