Overstreet v. Shoney's, 9612-00566

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee
Citation4 S.W.3d 694
Docket Number9612-00566
Decision Date04 June 1999

V .

Appeal No. 01A01-9612-CV-00566

Tennessee Court of Appeals

June 04, 1999


Putnam Circuit No. J-5125


For the Plaintiff/Appellee: John K. Maddin, Jr. Malcolm L. McCune Maddin Miller & McCune Nashville, Tennessee William A. Cameron Cameron & Chaffin Cookeville, Tennessee

For the Defendant/Appellant: Lawrence E. Levine Levine Mattson Orr & Geracioti Nashville, Tennessee Jim H. Camp Sparta, Tennessee


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Koch, Jr., Judge


This appeal involves a freakish accident in which a shard from a broken dinner plate caused a restaurant patron to lose the sight in her left eye. The patron and her husband filed suit against the waitress who dropped the plate and the restaurant in the Circuit Court for Putnam County seeking damages for her injuries and for his loss of consortium. Following a three-day trial, the jury awarded the patron $2,013,000. On this appeal, the restaurant takes issue with several of the trial court's evidentiary rulings, the trial court's verdict form, and the trial court's refusal to grant a remittitur. We affirm the judgment.


Sarah Beth Clingan Overstreet received her graduate nursing degree from Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville in May 1993. One month later, she went to work for Cookeville General Hospital. Because of her professors' encouragement, Ms. Overstreet planned to pursue an advanced nursing degree. She was also engaged to be married and had set an October 1993 wedding date.

On July 22, 1993, Ms. Overstreet and her fiancee decided to eat a late supper at the Shoney's Restaurant on Willow Road in Cookeville. Approximately fifteen feet from where Ms. Overstreet was seated, a server, who was serving other customers, held an iced tea pitcher in one hand and a serving tray with two ceramic dinner plates in the other. The server placed the pitcher on the lid of a partially open ice bin. As the pitcher began to fall from the ice bin, the server grabbed for it, and in the process, the two dinner plates fell from her tray and broke on the floor. A shard from one of the broken plates struck Ms. Overstreet in her left eye.

Ms. Overstreet heard the plates fall and immediately "felt something hot in my left eye." At first she thought it might be a piece of food or her contact lens, but when she saw blood on her napkin and her white blouse, she knew she had been cut. The wound was very painful, and Ms. Overstreet went into shock. She was treated initially in the emergency room at Cookeville General Hospital where it was discovered that the shard had cut her eye and that vitreous gel was protruding from the wound. Ms. Overstreet was quickly transferred to Vanderbilt University Hospital where surgeons closed the laceration. She remained hospitalized for several days on a regimen of antibiotics.

The Vanderbilt physicians feared that the retina of Ms. Overstreet's left eye would become detached and cause blindness in that eye. When the retina eventually detached, Ms. Overstreet underwent four additional surgeries in an attempt to stabilize her retina and save the sight in her left eye. The scar tissue that formed after each surgery prevented the retina from remaining in its normal position. The fourth surgery was an experimental procedure in which silicon oil was injected directly into the eye through tiny incisions. Ms. Overstreet experienced significant pain and discomfort during the five-month period when these surgeries were being performed. She also suffered psychologically as her ability to see through her left eye gradually deteriorated. As she described it, "[t]he last time that I saw anything was a little bitty pinhole of light in motion and it kept getting smaller and smaller and then there wasn't any more."

In March 1994, Ms. Overstreet underwent a fifth surgical procedure to relieve her pain and headaches and the irritation in her eye. The physician removed the experimental silicon oil and scraped calcium deposits from her cornea. Today, Ms. Overstreet is blind in her left eye. Her left eye also looks abnormal because it is red and irritated and because it is noticeably smaller than her right eye.

The injury to Ms. Overstreet's eye affects not only her vision but also her life. Her loss of vision dealt a tremendous blow to her self-confidence and to her perception of herself. Ms. Overstreet's psychologist diagnosed her as suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. For her part, Ms. Overstreet stated that she no longer likes herself and that she has changed from an outgoing, strong, and confident person to someone who does not want to leave the house. She has nightmares, sleep disorders, crying spells, and poor concentration and low self-esteem.

Ms. Overstreet has continued to work as a nurse; however, her clinical skills and outlook for further education and professional advancement have dwindled. While at one time she excelled at clinical care, she now finds it difficult to perform even the most basic procedures. She has difficulty measuring medicines or giving intravenous injections because of her loss of depth perception. She also becomes fatigued when she inputs clinical information into the computer. She now works the night shift because it is less busy than the day shift and she has declined offers to transfer to more acute care areas because of her concern that one of her errors might hurt a patient. An expert rehabilitative counselor has determined that Ms. Overstreet is vocationally disabled in light of the physical and emotional requirements of nursing. As a result of the injury to and disfigurement of her eye, Ms. Overstreet has changed from an accomplished, motivated, and confident person whose prospects seemed endless to a person who is thankful just to get through another day.

In January 1994, Ms. Overstreet and her husband filed a negligence action in the Circuit Court for Putnam County against Shoney's and the server who dropped the dishes. Prior to trial, Ms. Overstreet's husband also voluntarily dismissed his claims against both Shoney's and the server because he was not married to Ms. Overstreet when she was injured. Ms. Overstreet likewise voluntarily dismissed her claims against the server. Following a three-day trial, a jury returned a verdict against Shoney's for $2,013,000. Shoney's perfected this appeal after the trial court denied its motion for a new trial and/or a remittitur.


The Sufficiency of Ms. Overstreet's Pleadings

Shoney's first seeks to undermine the verdict by attacking the sufficiency of Ms. Overstreet's pleadings. It asserts that it could not be held responsible for the negligent acts of its server because Ms. Overstreet's complaint did not specifically allege the doctrine of respondeat superior. Shoney's reasons that Ms. Overstreet's decision to dismiss her claims against its server had the legal effect of undermining her claims against Shoney's. This argument is without merit because Shoney's stipulated that the server was acting within the scope of her employment when Ms. Overstreet was injured and that any negligence on the part of the server was chargeable to Shoney's.

A stipulation is an agreement between counsel regarding business before the court, see State v. Ford, 725 S.W.2d 689, 691 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1986), which is entered into mutually and voluntarily by the parties. See State v. Morris, 641 S.W.2d 883, 889 (Tenn. 1982). A stipulation obviates the need for evidence regarding the stipulated matters. See Hunter v. Burke, 958 S.W.2d 751, 755 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997). Although the parties may not stipulate to questions of law, see Mast Adver. & Publ'g, Inc. v. Moyers, 865 S.W.2d 900, 902 (Tenn. 1993), stipulations within the range of possibly true facts and valid legal strategies are allowed. See Mast Adver. & Publ'g, Inc. v. Moyers, 865 S.W.2d at 902.

A stipulation regarding an agent acting within the scope of his or her employment may be based on a party's admissions of fact. See Steiner-Liff Iron and Metal Co. v. Woodmont Country Club, 480 S.W.2d 533, 537 (Tenn. 1972). On appeal, stipulations are binding on the parties and may not be altered. See Bearman v. Camatsos, 215 Tenn. 231, 236, 385 S.W.2d 91, 93 (1964); First Southern Trust Co. v. Sowell, 683 S.W.2d 680, 681 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1984).

In this case, Shoney's stipulated first at a pre-trial conference and then at trial that its server was acting within the scope of her employment with Shoney's when Ms. Overstreet was injured and that the server's negligence, if any, could be attributable to Shoney's under the theory of respondeat superior. This issue was established by the server's undisputed testimony and was included in the instruction to the jury without objection from Shoney's. Relying on this stipulation, Ms. Overstreet voluntarily non-suited her claim against the server. After agreeing to stipulate this issue at trial, Shoney's cannot now complain that Ms. Overstreet's pleadings are deficient.


The Trial Court's Evidentiary Rulings

Shoney's takes issue with two of the trial court's evidentiary rulings. First, it asserts that the trial court should not have permitted Ms. Overstreet to present evidence concerning her plans to pursue an advanced nursing degree. Second, it argues that the trial court erred by preventing it from cross-examining Ms. Overstreet concerning the results of an evaluation performed when she was an extern at Cookeville General Hospital between her second and third years of nursing school. We find no error with the trial court's decisions on both issues.

One of the trial court's essential responsibilities is to control the flow of evidence to the jury by ruling on the admissibility of evidence, controlling the order of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
503 cases
  • Highlands Physicians, Inc. v. Wellmont Health Sys.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • September 25, 2020
    ...among several acceptable alternatives. Lee Med., Inc. v. Beecher , 312 S.W.3d 515, 524 (Tenn. 2010) (citing Overstreet v. Shoney's, Inc. , 4 S.W.3d 694, 708 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999) ). Because the trial court is vested with the responsibility to make that choice, a reviewing court cannot secon......
  • Flax v. Daimlerchrysler Corp., M2005-01768-SC-R11-CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • July 24, 2008
    ...requirements to recover for any mental and emotional suffering resulting from her own physical injuries. See Overstreet v. Shoney's, Inc., 4 S.W.3d 694, 715 (Tenn.Ct.App.1999) (holding that damages for pain and suffering in a personal injury case may include a variety of mental and emotiona......
  • State v. Willis, E2012-01313-SC-DDT-DD
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • July 6, 2016
    ...differ concerning its soundness. White v. Vanderbilt Univ. , 21 S.W.3d 215, 223 (Tenn.Ct.App.1999) (citing Overstreet v. Shoney's, Inc. , 4 S.W.3d 694, 708 (Tenn.Ct.App.1999) ). Further, when it comes to the admissibility of evidence, and specifically with respect to the admission of photog......
  • Golden Eagle Archery, Inc. v. Jackson, 01-0007.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • September 11, 2003
    ...342 N.J.Super. 351, 776 A.2d 874, 881 (2001); Boan v. Blackwell, 343 S.C. 498, 541 S.E.2d 242, 244 (2001); Overstreet v. Shoney's, Inc., 4 S.W.3d 694, 715 (Tenn.Ct.App.1999); Kirk v. Wash. State Univ., 109 Wash.2d 448, 746 P.2d 285, 292-93 (1987); Mariner v. Marsden, 610 P.2d 6, 12 44. 720 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT