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Chapter 52: Negligent Bailment

§52.1 Generally

The Case: Anderson v. Lamb's Auto Service, Inc. , No. W2008-01305-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 1076729 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 5, 1009).

The Basic Facts: This case was brought pursuant to the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act and a negligent bailment theory for alleged poor repairs to the interior of the plaintiffs' car and for alleged damage to the exterior of the car. 2009 WL 1076729 at *1.

The Bottom Line:

  • "On appeal, Lamb's Auto argues that there was insufficient proof to establish that the overspray damage was the proxmiate (sic) result of any negligence by Lamb's Auto. In inquiring whether there is sufficient proof of negligence, we consider the burden shifting that occurs when a party alleges a negligent bailment. By statute, a bailor establishes a prima facie case of a bailee's negligence if it proves 1) the property was delivered to the bailee in good condition, 2) bailee failed to return the property in accord with a contract or returned it in a damaged condition, and 3) the damage was not due to the inherent nature of the property bailed. Tenn. Code Ann. § 24-5-111. Once a bailor establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the bailee to produce evidence and persuade the trier of fact that the damage was not caused by the bailee's negligence. Mathews v. Cumberland Chevrolet Co., 640 S.W.2d 582, 58485 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1982). At trial, Mrs. Anderson testified that when she dropped her car off at Lamb's Auto there was no overspray on the car, but when she picked it up the car looked dull and there were flakes later indentified to be overspray. This shifted the burden to Lamb's Auto to prove that the damage was not caused by the bailee's negligence. On appeal, Lamb's Auto argues that it met this burden. We disagree." Id. at *4.
  • "To rebut the presumption of negligence, Lamb's Auto offered proof of the general precautions that it takes to avoid overspray damage. In addition, Lamb's Auto claims that no paint work was performed while plaintiffs' vehicle was in defendant's shop. This evidence, however, is not sufficient to rebut the presumption of negligence. As this Court articulated in Stevens v. Moore, 139 S.W.2d 710, 717 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1940), 'the bailee's duty in this respect includes production of evidence that the loss was not attributable to any want of due care on his part, and that to this end he is bound to disclose fully, in so far as he can, the manner in which the loss occurred, the facts and circumstances attending it, and the precautions taken to prevent it. Id. at 717 (quoting 6 Am. Juris § 379). Lamb's Auto failed to produce evidence of what particularly happened to the Andersons' car; where a defendant fails to produce any evidence whatsoever to account for the damage of the property, it cannot be said that they have sustained their burden by proving that the damage was not caused by their own negligence. Murphy v. Co-operative Laundry Co. of St. Paul, 41 N.W.2d 261, 26263 (Minn. 1950). We find, therefore, that Lamb's Auto failed to prove that its negligence did not damage the exterior of the Andersons' car, and affirm the judgment of the trial court that Lamb's Auto breached the contract." Id. at *5.

Other Sources of Note: Tenn. Code Ann. § 24-5-111.

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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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