January 16, 2018 Session
from the Circuit Court for Blount County No. L-18929 Rex H.
This appeal arises from a lawsuit over a fatal cycling
accident. Carolyn Crisp ("Plaintiff"), surviving
spouse of William Andrew Crisp ("Decedent"), sued
Michael Nelms ("Nelms") and George Long
("Long") ("Defendants, " collectively) in
the Circuit Court for Blount County ("the Trial
Court") for negligence. Decedent and four others,
including Nelms and Long, were riding as part of a
"paceline" group when a crash occurred. Nelms
asserted comparative fault, stating that Long slowed down
suddenly at the head of the line. Long denied he slowed down
suddenly. Defendants filed motions for summary judgment. The
Trial Court held, among other things, that paceline cycling
inherently is dangerous and that Decedent was at least 50% at
fault for his accident. Plaintiff appealed to this Court. We
hold, inter alia, that there is a genuine issue of
material fact as to whether Long slowed down suddenly at the
head of the line and whether a reasonable jury could find
Decedent less than 50% at fault in his accident. We reverse
the judgment of the Trial Court and remand for the case to
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed; Case Remanded
T. Black, Melanie E. Davis, and Carlos A. Yunsan, Maryville,
Tennessee, for the appellant, Carolyn Crisp.
Alexander Vogel, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee,
L. Powers and William A. Ladnier, Knoxville, Tennessee, for
the appellee, George Long.
Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Charles D. Susano, Jr. and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE
February 25, 2014, five people embarked on a cycling
expedition along the shoulder of U.S. Highway 321 near
Townsend, Tennessee. The group was riding in a paceline, an
activity wherein cyclists ride in a line one after the other
in close quarters. This action serves to increase the
efficiency of the ride as the riders draft off one another to
counteract the wind resistance. At the front of the line was
Long. Behind Long was Nelms. Richard Cox was third. Decedent
was fourth, and Stacy Napier was at the back of the line.
This was not a group of novices. Rather, these were seasoned
cyclists riding expensive bicycles. Long and Decedent,
friends since childhood and regular cycling companions, were
in their 70s.
cyclists left Cycology, a bicycle shop on U.S. highway 321 in
Blount County, at 10:30 a.m. The riders were traveling at a
speed of about 22 miles per hour. Around noon, the incident
occurred. Nelms' front tire struck Long's back tire.
Nelms wrecked and fell to the pavement. Cox, third in line,
swerved and avoided Nelms. Decedent, fourth, steered right
but wound up flying off his bicycle and landing on his head.
Hospital records reflect that "another rider hit"
Nelms. Nelms denies that Decedent hit him, asserting instead
that Decedent sharply applied his breaks and thereby caused
his own misfortune.
was rendered quadriplegic by the wreck. Decedent dictated a
note to Nelms, stating in part: "I think it is important
for you to know that I place no blame on you for the accident
. . . it was just one of those things that you cannot
understand." On August 22, 2014, Decedent died.
February 2015, Plaintiff, Decedent's widow, sued Nelms in
the Trial Court. In April 2015, Nelms filed an answer denying
liability. Nelms raised the defense of comparative fault and
stated that Long may have been negligent in causing the
incident. In June 2015, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint,
this time including Long as a defendant. In August 2015, Long
filed an answer acknowledging that Nelms struck his bicycle
but denying that he slowed down. Long raised the defense of
comparative fault with respect to Nelms and Decedent.
Joganich, a bicycle safety expert testifying for Plaintiff,
stated in his deposition:
Q. All right. The last sentence here, "The collision
with Mr. Nelms' bike and the wheel of Mr.
Long's" -- strike that. "The collision with Mr.
Nelms' bike and with the wheel of Mr. Long's bike
shows that these duties were breached by Mr. Nelms."
That is an opinion you will be giving?
Q. If Mr. Long's bike slowed suddenly, and Mr. Nelms'
front wheel contacted Mr. Long's back wheel, would that
be a breach of a duty by Mr. Nelms?
A. You have to define "suddenly" because this is
really a control systems problem. The reality is there is a
variation in speed of all the cyclists out there, even the
one in front. Now, it may be so subtle and so small that you
may not perceive it. The fact is that the rider out in front
has the duty to maintain a constant pace as possible, and
then all the riders following have to respond to any
variation in input. Now, if for reason the rider out in front
had an emergency braking where the following riders would not
respond in time, then you are going to have a crash. In this
case, I don't see anything in the evidence to support Mr.
Long slowing down in a sudden manner to the point where Mr.
Nelms could not respond.
Q. Okay. Well, you read Mr. Nelms' deposition, did you
A. Correct. He said that he slowed down suddenly. But when
you look at all the other evidence, even Mr. Nelms said that
there was nothing in the roadway that he saw -- I should
backup and say that the only reason why the rider is going to
slow down is for some external factors such as something in
the roadway -- I'm talking about an emergency type of
condition such as a deer runs out or a squirrel runs out, and
that happens all the time. It happens to our group, but
there's no evidence of anything like that happening. Mr.
Long testified that he was going to go at a constant pace all
the way to River Road, so there's no reason for him to
slow down. The only other reason for him to slow down is he
were going to pull off and switch positions, but there's
no evidence of that.
Q. Well, there's been testimony that there was a strong
headwind that day. Are you going to give any opinion about
the wind conditions on the day of the accident in question?
A. I will certainly refer to it because that is an issue in
the case, and it's been discussed in the depositions.
Q. Well, while we are on that topic, and I will cover it
again, but I don't see that you give any opinion in your
affidavit or in this letter where you discuss the wind
conditions. Are you sticking to that?
A. Well, it's not going to be a main point. It may be a
sub opinion based on some of the main opinions I'm
talking about. If you asked me, was there a wind at the time,
then I'm going to talk to you about what the others said
and what the climatology report says.
Q. Okay. When Mr. Long says that there was a strong headwind
that day, do you have any ...