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Helyukh v. Buddy Head Livestock & Trucking Inc.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

April 24, 2017

VOLODYMYR HELYUKH, ET AL.
v.
BUDDY HEAD LIVESTOCK & TRUCKING, INC., ET AL.

          Session June 21, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Henderson County No. 12095 Roy B. Morgan, Jr., Judge.

         The plaintiffs appeal the grant of summary judgment in a negligence case. One of the plaintiffs, a truck driver, suffered injuries stemming from a collision with another tractor-trailer owned by the defendant and operated by its employee. The plaintiffs claimed that the employee's negligence proximately caused the accident. The owner of the overturned tractor-trailer moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs could not establish that its employee's conduct fell below the applicable standard of care. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment. On appeal, the plaintiffs argue, among other things, that owner of the overturned tractor-trailed failed to meet its burden of production in moving for summary judgment. Because we conclude that the movant failed to demonstrate the absence of material facts that would create genuine issues for trial, we reverse the grant of summary judgment.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed and Case Remanded.

          Ronald J. Berke, Jeremy M. Cother, and Charles A. Flynn, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellants, Volodymyr Helyukh, and Mariah Helyukh.

          R. Dale Thomas and Matthew R. Courtner, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Buddy Head Livestock & Trucking, Inc.

          Gary M. Kellar and Lucas E.W. Jerkins, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Northland Insurance Company.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S. and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE

         I.

         On November 16, 2011, Volodymyr Helyukh, a long-distance truck driver, sustained injuries when he collided with an overturned tractor-trailer on Interstate 40 in western Tennessee. The overturned vehicle was owned by Buddy Head Livestock & Trucking, Inc. and operated by its employee, Michael Heller. Mr. Helyukh testified in his deposition that he was driving west within the posted speed limit on Interstate 40 when he suddenly saw what he thought was a "wall" blocking both lanes of travel. Unable to stop or avoid the obstacle, Mr. Helyukh collided with the overturned vehicle. He did not know what events transpired to cause the tractor-trailer to overturn.

         A. Procedural History

         On May 24, 2012, Mr. Helyukh and his wife[1] filed this action against Buddy Head Livestock, Michael Heller, USF Holland, Inc., and Jack Grady. Plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Heller's negligence[2] was the proximate cause of Mr. Helyukh's injuries and that Buddy Head Livestock was responsible for that negligence because Mr. Heller was driving the tractor-trailer in the course of his employment.

         According to the complaint, a third tractor-trailer, driven by Mr. Grady and owned by USF Holland, was also traveling west along the same stretch of interstate during the relevant time period. Plaintiffs included Mr. Grady and USF Holland in this action because Buddy Head Livestock and Mr. Heller claimed that Mr. Grady forced Mr. Heller off the road and contributed to the accident.

         In its initial answer, Buddy Head Livestock admitted that Mr. Heller was an employee[3] and that, as his employer, the company was liable for any negligence on the part of Mr. Heller but denied that Mr. Heller was negligent. The company also admitted that Mr. Heller left his lane of travel after being forced off the road by another vehicle and that the vehicle in question "may have been" driven by Mr. Grady or "may have been" a vehicle driven by an unidentified driver. Buddy Head Livestock affirmatively asserted the comparative fault of Mr. Helyukh, Mr. Grady, and the unidentified driver.

         On September 16, 2013, the court granted Buddy Head Livestock leave to amend its answer. In the amended answer, the company asserted that Mr. Heller was forced off the road by an unidentified vehicle and eliminated all references to Mr. Grady and USF Holland. ...


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