Friday, October 14, 2011

Court reviews whether the public duty doctrine applied in a wrongful death case

BARBARA A. LYNCH, deceased, by her sister and next of kin, CELINE HAYES, and CELINE HAYES as an individual, v. LOUDON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, et al. (Tenn. Ct. App. October 14, 2011)

Joseph R. Ford and Ashley Harrison Shudan, Loudon, Tennessee, for the appellants, Barbara A. Lynch, deceased, by her sister and next of kin, Celine Hayes.

Arthur F. Knight, III., Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Loudon County, Tennessee and Bryan Blakney.

In this wrongful death action, plaintiff alleged that deceased was involved in a one car accident and the investigating officer, after her car was removed from the guardrail by the wrecker, allowed her to continue driving when he knew or should have known that she was impaired and was a danger to herself, and he violated his duties to her and shortly thereafter she had yet another one-vehicle accident which resulted in her death.

The Trial Court, responding to defendants' motion for summary judgment, found that the public duty doctrine applied and if the officer did undertake to protect deceased, she did not rely upon his undertaking. He granted defendants summary judgment. On appeal, we hold that under the public duty doctrine, plaintiff owed no specific duty to deceased, unless he undertook to assume such duty. We hold that there is disputed material evidence as to whether he assumed such duty to deceased but discontinued his aid and protection to deceased which left her in a worse position than she was before he intervened. We reverse the summary judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Opinion available at:

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