§49.5 Duty at Intersections

The Case: Nash-Wilson Funeral Home v. Greer , 417 S.W.2d 562 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1966).

The Basic Facts: The Greers were passengers in the Nash-Wilson ambulance. The ambulance was involved in an intersection collision with Couch. The Greers sued the owners of the ambulance and Couch.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Under the undisputed proof, the statutory right-of-way in the intersection of Lamont and Center Streets belonged to Miss Couch, she having entered a controlled intersection of the green light. [Tenn. Code Ann. § 59-810]." 417 S.W.2d at 565.

  • "However, the fact that Miss Couch had the right of way does not, of necessity, require or justify a verdict be directed in her behalf. In our opinion, the question of who had the right of way is not the sole determinative issue in the present case, though it is a very important factor in a finding of liability in any intersection accident. The mere fact that one vehicle has the right of way over another at a street intersection does not relieve the driver thus favored from the duty of exercising due care not to injury others at the street intersection. Duling v. Burnett, [124 S.W.2d 294]; Shew v. Bailey, [260 S.W.2d 362]. And, in our opinion, when the above evidence is considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as we are required to do, there is material evidence in the record from which twelve reasonable men--Acting under proper instructions from the court--could find that both drivers failed to 'exercise due care', regardless of who had the right of way, and that the negligence of both drivers combined and concurred together to proximately cause the accident." Id.

  • "Specifically, we think a jury reasonably could find that the driver of the ambulance entered a busy downtown intersection against a red light at an excessive rate of speed and without sounding its siren. Further, we think the jury could find that the ambulance driver did not have the ambulance under reasonable control and failed to act as a reasonably prudent person would act after he saw Miss Couch's automobile and realized that an accident was imminent if either he or Miss Couch did not alter the speed or change the course of their vehicle. The negligence of Miss Couch would be her failure to see the approaching ambulance until after the collision--it being a basic requirement of due care in the operation of an automobile that the driver keep a reasonably careful lookout for traffic upon the highway 'commensurate with the dangerous character of the vehicle and the nature of the locality' (Hale v. Rayburn, [264 S.W.2d 230]), 'and to see all that comes within the radius of his line of vision, both in front and to the side.' Hadley v. Morris, [249 S.W.2d 295, 298]." Id.

Other Sources of Note: Thomas v. State, 742 S.W.2d 649 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1987) (a green or go signal is not a command to go, but a qualified permission to proceed lawfully and carefully in the direction indicated).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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