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McIntyre v. Balentine

Supreme Court of Tennessee, At Jackson

May 4, 1992, Decided ; May 4, 1992, Filed

No. 1

Opinion

 [*53] OPINION

In this personal injury action, we granted Plaintiff's application for permission to appeal in order to decide whether to adopt a system of comparative fault [**2]  in Tennessee. We are also asked to determine whether the criminal presumption of intoxication is admissible evidence in a civil case. We now replace the common law defense of contributory negligence with a system of comparative fault. Additionally, we hold that the criminal presumption of intoxication established by T.C.A. § 55-10-408(b) (1988) is admissible evidence in a civil case.

In the early morning darkness of November 2, 1986, Plaintiff-Harry Douglas McIntyre and Defendant-Clifford Balentine were involved in a motor vehicle accident resulting in severe injuries to Plaintiff. The accident occurred in the vicinity of Smith's Truck Stop in Savannah, Tennessee. As Defendant-Balentine was traveling south on Highway 69, Plaintiff entered the highway (also traveling south) from the truck stop parking lot. Shortly after Plaintiff entered the highway, his pickup truck was struck by Defendant's Peterbilt tractor. At trial, the parties disputed the exact chronology of events immediately preceding the accident.

Both men had consumed alcohol the evening of the accident. After the accident, Plaintiff's blood alcohol level was measured at .17 percent by weight. Testimony suggested that Defendant [**3]  was traveling in excess of the posted speed limit.

Plaintiff brought a negligence action against Defendant-Balentine and Defendant-East-West Motor Freight, Inc. 1 Defendants answered that Plaintiff was contributorially negligent, in part due to operating his vehicle while intoxicated. After trial, the jury returned a verdict stating: "We, the jury, find the plaintiff and the defendant equally at fault in this accident; therefore, we rule in favor of the defendant."

After judgment was entered for Defendants, Plaintiff brought an appeal alleging the trial court erred by (1) refusing to instruct the jury regarding the doctrine of comparative negligence, and (2) instructing the jury that a blood alcohol level greater than .10 percent creates an inference of  [*54]  intoxication. The Court of Appeals affirmed,  [**4]  holding that (1) comparative negligence is not the law in Tennessee, and (2) the presumption of intoxication provided by T.C.A. § 55-10-408(b) (1988) is admissible evidence in a civil case.

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833 S.W.2d 52 *; 1992 Tenn. LEXIS 336 **; 60 U.S.L.W. 2764

HARRY DOUGLAS McINTYRE, Plaintiff-Appellant, V. CLIFFORD BALENTINE and EAST-WEST MOTOR FREIGHT, INC., Defendants-Appellees.

Subsequent History: Petition for Rehearing Denied June 1, 1992, Reported at 1992 Tenn. LEXIS 389.

Prior History:  [**1]  LAW COURT. HARDIN COUNTY. Hon. C. Creed McGinley, Judge.

Disposition: TRIAL COURT AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART. COURT OF APPEALS AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART. CASE REMANDED.

CORE TERMS

comparative fault, damages, percent, contributory negligence, proximate, fault, instructions, modified, cases, trial court, intoxication, railroad, comparative negligence, instruct a jury, apportionment, questions, injuries, blood

Torts, Comparative Fault, Common Law Concepts, General Overview, Defenses, Contributory Negligence, Apportionment of Fault, Civil Procedure, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Procedural Matters, Last Clear Chance Doctrine, Procedural Matters, Multiple Defendants, Joint & Several Liability, Contribution, Pleading & Practice, Pleadings, Answers, Amendment of Pleadings, Multiple Parties, Absent Defendants, Criminal Law & Procedure, Driving Under the Influence, Blood Alcohol & Field Sobriety Testing, Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Criminal Offenses, Vehicular Crimes, Proof, Violations of Law, Criminal & Penal Legislation, Elements, Causation, Proximate Cause, Evidence, Statutes