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Hyde v. South Central Tennessee Development District

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

July 14, 2017

JONELLE HYDE
v.
SOUTH CENTRAL TENNESSEE DEVELOPMENT DISTRICT

          July 13, 2016 Session

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 14C2157 Joseph P. Binkley, Jr., Judge

         Defendant that admitted liability for vehicle accident appeals the award of damages to the injured Plaintiff, contending that the awards for lost wages, lost future earnings, pain and suffering, past and future, loss of ability to enjoy life, past and future, and permanent impairment awards, are against the preponderance of the evidence. Upon a thorough review of the record, we modify the award for past medical expenses; affirm the awards for past pain and suffering, permanent impairment, past loss of ability to enjoy life and for loss of ability to enjoy life in the future, and for lost wages; reverse the award for future pain and suffering; and vacate the award for loss of earning capacity and remand the case for further consideration of the award.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Modified in Part, Affirmed in Part, Vacated in Part, and Reversed in Part; Case Remanded

          Keith F. Blue, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, South Central Tennessee Development District.

          Stanley A. Davis, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jonelle Hyde.

          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

         On June 14, 2013, Ms. Jonelle Hyde was involved in a motor vehicle accident when Michael Crabtree, an employee of South Central Tennessee Development District ("South Central"), ran a red light and caused the South Central van he was driving to collide into the driver's side of Ms. Hyde's car. Ms. Hyde, the driver and sole occupant of her car, was taken to Summit Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with a strain in her thoracic spine and a contusion to her right leg, and discharged with pain medication. On June 16, Ms. Hyde went to St. Thomas Midtown Hospital complaining of pain in her head as a result of hitting her head on the window during the accident; she was examined, diagnosed with a headache, and discharged with a prescription for pain medication.

         On June 19, 2013, complaining of muscle spasms in her lumbar spine and aches throughout her body, Ms. Hyde sought treatment from Dr. Casey Bearden, a chiropractor. From June 19 to October 10, she was treated by Dr. Bearden a total of thirty-three times, receiving physical therapy, electrical muscle stimulation therapy, and therapeutic exercises. On August 20 and November 20, 2013, and January 27, 2014, Ms. Hyde visited her primary care provider, Dr. Arikana Chihombori of the Bell Family Medical Center, seeking treatment for conditions which she reported were related to the accident.

         Ms. Hyde filed suit on May 23, 2014, against Mr. Crabtree and South Central; inasmuch as South Central is a governmental entity covered under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-20-101, et seq., Mr. Crabtree invoked his immunity from suit under section 29-20-310(b) and was dismissed from the case. In due course, South Central admitted liability for the accident, and a non-jury trial on the issue of damages to Ms. Hyde was held on November 9, 2015. On November 19, 2015, the court entered an order awarding $271, 378.95 in compensatory damages, allowed as follows:

1. Past medical expenses: $11, 079.50
2. Future medical expenses: 00.00
3. Lost Wages: $1, 257.75
4. Lost Future Earnings: $169, 041.60
5. Pain and suffering - past: $15, 000.00
6. Pain and suffering - future: $50, 000.00
7. Loss of ability to enjoy life - past: $5, 000.00
8. Loss of ability to enjoy life - future: $15, 000.00
9. Permanent impairment: $5, 000.00

         South Central appeals, articulating the following issues:

1. The preponderance of the evidence at trial is contrary to the trial court's decision on the amount of past medical expenses proximately caused and necessitated by the accident.
2. Trial court erred in its conclusion of law by using the incorrect legal standard it applied to its decision to award $169, 042.60 for lost future earnings and/or loss of future earning capacity and further awarded an amount not supported by the preponderance of the evidence in the case, when the preponderance of the evidence was that plaintiff did not suffer a loss of earning capacity.
3. Trial court's award for pain and suffering - past, in the amount of $15, 000 for injuries alleged to have been received in the June 14, 2013 accident, is contrary to the preponderance of the evidence, and that the preponderance of the evidence is that plaintiff/appellee Hyde did not suffer an extended past period of pain and suffering.
4. Trial court's award of $50, 000.00 for future pain and suffering was contrary to the preponderance of the evidence which was the plaintiff/appellee Hyde failed in her burden of proof to prove by a preponderance of evidence to a reasonable certainty that plaintiff/appellee Hyde would experience future pain and suffering.
5. Trial court's award of $5, 000.00 for permanent impairment is contrary to the preponderance of the evidence, and the preponderance of the evidence shows no award should be given for permanent impairment.
6. Court's award of $15, 000.00 for loss of ability to enjoy life in the future is contrary to the preponderance of the evidence, which was plaintiff/appellee Hyde had not suffered a loss of ability to enjoy life in the future.
7. Trial court's award for $5, 000.00 for loss of ability to enjoy life in the past is not supported by the preponderance of the evidence, and the preponderance of the evidence is that she did not suffer as a result of the accident a loss of ability to enjoy life in the past.
8. Trial court erred as a matter of law in its decision to allow a document, Exhibit 16, that was inadmissible hearsay into evidence as to her rate of pay and the number of hours she allegedly missed from work after the accident, and therefore the award of $1, 257.75 for lost wages should be vacated.

         II. Standard of Review

         Review of the trial court's findings of fact is de novo upon the record accompanied by a presumption of correctness, unless the preponderance of the evidence is otherwise. See Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d); Kaplan v. Bugalla, 188 S.W.3d 632, 635 (Tenn. 2006). However, where the trial court fails to make specific findings of fact on an issue, we may conduct an independent review of the record to determine where the preponderance of the evidence lies. Gooding v. Gooding, 477 S.W.3d 774, 783 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015). Review of the trial ...


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