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McIntyre v. Balentine

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Harry McIntyre (Plaintiff) and the Defendant, Clifford Balentine (Defendant), were involved in a car accident, with both parties being partially responsible. The jury found for the Defendant based on the contributory negligence doctrine. Plaintiff appealed and requested that the court adopt comparative negligence.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Tennessee adopts modified comparative negligence, allowing plaintiffs to recover so long as their negligence does not exceed the negligence of the defendant.

    Facts. The Plaintiff and Defendant were involved in a motor vehicle accident, with severe injuries resulting to Plaintiff. As Defendant traveled south on Highway 69 in Savannah, Tennessee, Plaintiff pulled out of a truck stop. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff’s truck struck Defendant’s tractor. Both men had consumed alcohol the evening of the accident. Plaintiff’s blood alcohol content was measured at .17 and testimony suggested that Defendant was speeding. Plaintiff brought a negligence action against Defendant and the lessee of the truck. Defendant answered that Plaintiff was contributorially negligent, in part due to operating his vehicle while intoxicated. The jury found the Plaintiff and Defendant equally at fault, therefore, they ruled in favor of the Defendant. Plaintiff appealed, alleging the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury regarding the doctrine of comparative negligence. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

    Issue. Should Tennessee adopt the doctrine of comparative negligence?

    Held. Yes. Judgment reversed in part and affirmed in part (on a separate issue) and remanded.
    * The common law doctrine of contributory negligence has been traced to Butterfield v. Forrester, [11 East 60, 103 Eng.Rep. 926 (1809)]. The contributory negligence bar to recovery may have developed as on outgrowth of issue pleading, where questions posed had to be answered yes or no, leaving common law courts to award all or nothing.
    * Tennessee has followed the general rule of barring recovery for contributory negligence, allowing for exceptions for intentional conduct, gross negligence, actions falling under the last clear chance doctrine, or when plaintiff’s negligence is remote. Based on the general acceptance of comparative fault throughout the nation, the Court abandoned the unjust doctrine of contributory negligence and adopts a system of comparative fault.
    * Two basic forms of comparative fault are used throughout the nation, pure and modified comparative fault. Under the pure form, damages are reduced in proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the plaintiff. The modified form is the same as pure, except plaintiffs recover only if plaintiff’s negligence either does not exceed does not exceed 50%, or is less than 49% of defendant’s negligence.
    * This Court adopts the modified form of comparative fault in an effort not to fully abandon the state’s fault-based tort system. Therefore, so long as plaintiff’s negligence remains less than defendant’s the plaintiff may recover. To provide guidance to the trial courts, the court also held that the doctrines of remote and contributory negligence are obsolete, as well as the doctrine of joint and several liability. Also, in the case of multiple tortfeasors, plaintiffs may recover as long as plaintiff’s fault is less than the combined fault of tortfeasors. The Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act [T.C.A. Section:Section: 29-11-101 to 106 (1980)] will no longer determine the apportionment liability between co-defendants. Finally, defendants answering allegations in negligence will be permitted to allege that a non-party contributed to or caused the injury as an affirmative defense and the trial court shall instruct the jury to assign a percentage of the total negligence to this nonparty.

    Discussion. Only four states continue to apply the common law doctrine that contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery.


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