Downen v. Allstate Ins. Co., 3

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtANDERSON; REID
Citation811 S.W.2d 523
PartiesShirley DOWNEN, Plaintiff/Appellant, v. ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant/Appellee. 811 S.W.2d 523
Docket NumberNo. 3,3
Decision Date20 May 1991

Page 523

811 S.W.2d 523
Shirley DOWNEN, Plaintiff/Appellant,
No. 3.
811 S.W.2d 523
Supreme Court of Tennessee,
at Jackson.
May 20, 1991.

Joseph Michael Cook, Memphis, for plaintiff-appellant.

John D. Richardson, Deborah P. Ford, Memphis, for defendant-appellee.


ANDERSON, Justice.

In this worker's compensation action, the trial judge sustained the defendant Allstate's motion for summary judgment, holding that, as a matter of law, the expert medical proof was insufficient to support

Page 524

an award to the employee's widow for worker's compensation death benefits. The widow appeals, contending that the deposition of her deceased husband's physician raises genuine issues of material fact as to whether her husband's heart attack arose out of his employment. We agree and reverse.

The plaintiff's husband, Hugh Downen ("Downen"), was an over-the-road truck driver employed by Signal Delivery Service ("Signal"), which was insured for workers compensation by the defendant, Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate"). On March 31, 1986, Downen drove Signal's tractor-trailer truck from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to Memphis, Tennessee, where he dropped off the trailer. He was in the process of driving the truck off of Signal's premises to pick up a trailer for a return load to Pine Bluff, when he slumped over the steering wheel of the truck. The truck continued across the road from Signal's premises, where it came to rest after striking a fence. Downen was taken to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis where he was pronounced dead by Dr. Lytle Brown, III. Downen was a smoker and was 44 years old at the time of his death. Although an autopsy was not performed, Dr. Brown is of the opinion that Downen died as a result of a myocardial infarction or a pulmonary embolus, the most likely cause of which was atherosclerotic heart disease, more commonly known as hardening of the arteries.

Allstate produced the deposition testimony of Dr. Brown in support of its motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff offered no contrary affidavits or evidence. Dr. Brown's testimony is inconclusive as to the precise cause of death, but taken as a whole, his deposition indicates that Downen's employment might have contributed to the cause of Downen's heart attack.


A worker's compensation appeal from a summary judgment order is not controlled by the de novo standard of review provided by the Workers' Compensation Act, Tenn.Code Ann. Sec. 50-6-225(e); rather, it is governed by Rule 56, Tenn.R.Civ.P.

If any material evidence indicates that a genuine issue of material fact exists, summary judgment is inappropriate. Particularly in certain kinds of cases summary judgment should be entered cautiously....

Blocker v. Regional Medical Center, 722 S.W.2d 660, 662 (Tenn.1987) (emphasis added). For example, this Court has cautioned that:

Because opinion testimony always is subject to evaluation by the fact finder, it generally has been held not an appropriate basis for summary judgment....

Bowman v. Henard, 547 S.W.2d 527, 530 (Tenn.1977) (citations omitted). Because they necessarily require proof of causation by expert medical evidence in the form of opinion testimony, summary judgment motions should be entered with caution in workers' compensation cases.

In determining whether Rule 56, Tenn.R.Civ.P. has been correctly applied,

This court views the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and competent affidavits in a light most...

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    • United States
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    • June 11, 1996
    ...559 (Tenn.1993). The moving party has the burden of proving that is motion satisfied these requirements. Downen v. Allstate Ins. Co., 811 S.W.2d 523, 524 Id. at 26. Because we have determined that "sudden" includes both a temporal element and a sense of the unexpected, we must measure these......
  • Byrd v. Hall
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    ...allow all reasonable inferences in favor of that party, and discard all Page 211 countervailing evidence. Downen v. Allstate Ins. Co., 811 S.W.2d 523, 524 (Tenn.1991); Poore, 666 S.W.2d at 49; Dunn, 833 S.W.2d at 80; Wyatt v. Winnebago Industries, Inc., 566 S.W.2d 276, 279 (Tenn.App.1977); ......
  • Cellco Partnership v. Shelby County, September 21, 2004 Session.
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    • August 29, 2005
    ...559 (Tenn.1993). The moving party has the burden of proving that its motion satisfies these requirements. Downen v. Allstate Ins. Co., 811 S.W.2d 523, 524 (Tenn.1991). When the party seeking summary judgment makes a properly supported motion, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set ......
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