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East Tennessee Bicycle Accident Case Involving “Paceline” Riding Should Not Have Ended in Summary Judgment

A common issue that arises in east Tennessee personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits is that of comparative negligence. This is because, under Tennessee’s “modified comparative fault” law, a plaintiff who is 50% or more at fault in an accident cannot recover compensation from the alleged wrongdoer.

Tennessee’s rule is harsher than that of some sister states that, instead, follow the rule of “pure comparative fault,” in which the plaintiff recovers at least some compensation as long as he or she is not 100% at fault (although the amount received is reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff).

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was the surviving spouse of a man who died several months after being rendered a quadriplegic in a bicycling accident that occurred near Townsend, Tennessee. She filed suit against two of the five cyclists (including the decedent) who were riding as part of a “paceline” group when the accident occurred. (In paceline riding, bicyclists travel in a line, one after another, in close quarters in order to draft off one another and counteract wind resistance.)

The Circuit Court for Blount County granted summary judgment to the defendants, holding that paceline cycling is inherently dangerous and that the decedent was at least 50% at fault in the accident. The plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the trial court. In analyzing whether summary judgment was appropriate, the court began by querying whether a duty of care exists in paceline riding and, if so, what the nature of that duty is. The defendants urged the appellate court to hold that those who participate in paceline riding assume the risk of whichever dangerous conduct, however unreasonable, is carried out by other participants, but the court of appeals disagreed with the defendants’ arguments. Regardless of whether there are certain inherent risks to paceline riding, the court found that each paceline rider still owes a duty of care to his or her fellow riders.

The court of appeals found that these duties include refraining from abruptly applying the brakes or hitting the wheel of the rider ahead without good reason. In the current case, the lower court failed to consider whether there was evidence that the defendants breached the duty of care owed to the decedent. Since genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether the defendants acted reasonably under the circumstances, the court remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings. On remand, the trier of fact was to determine the reasonableness of the defendants’ conduct, as well as the allocation of fault between the decedent and the defendants.

Schedule an Appointment with an Experienced Knoxville Injury Attorney

Because of the relative vulnerability of bicyclists and motorcycle riders, devastating injuries can occur in a crash. To schedule an appointment to discuss your personal injury case or a loved one’s wrongful death action with a knowledgeable Knoxville bicycle accident attorney, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at 865-524-5657 today. You should not delay in seeking legal advice about your case, since claims not filed within the statute of limitations are usually dismissed by the courts as untimely.

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