By DAVID DAVIS
The Tennessee Claims Commission recently placed some of the fault on the state in the death of Shipley Buckner in 2010. The tribunal filed its decision May 20 in Nashville, three years after the 18-year-old’s death May 9, 2010, in Chattanooga.
The claims commission decides on cases of alleged negligence by state officials or agencies. All claims awarded for damages are limited to $300,000 per claimant and $1 million per occurrence.
The three commissioners assigned 37.5 percent of the comparative fault to the state, the driver of the vehicle was found at 47.5 percent comparative fault and 15 percent of comparative fault was assessed to Buckner.
Damages were placed at $3.70 million. The commission attributed 37.5 percent, or $1.39 million to the state. That amount was reduced by 15 percent, or $208,523 for the comparative negligence of the claimant. Since the reduced amount of $1.18 million exceeds the statutory maximum, judgment was awarded against the state $300,000.
Buckner family attorney James F. Logan said the “Judgment and Order for Award” was a remarkable 82-pages long.
The claim was originally filed May 6, 2011, with the Division of Claims Administration demanding $1.5 million in damages against the state. The claim was transferred Aug. 4, 2011, to the commission. The case was tried Jan. 24 in a courtroom for the Circuit Court of Bradley County.
Logan said the family’s claim centered on the contention that the guardrail at the accident site was too short in length and terminated near a dangerous object — the tree the vehicle struck after leaving Highway 131 in Chattanooga.
According to the judgment, the “Roadside Design Guide,” a manual apparently used by most engineers involved in road building, required that the guardrail be extended an additional 150 to 200 feet from where it stopped at the time of the accident. The addition of guardrail was scheduled before the accident.
“Based on these considerations, we find the State knew that the site of this accident was dangerous. Since prior to May 9, 2010, plans had already been made to extend the guardrail 150 feet,” the commission state in the document.
An extended guardrail would have taken the vehicle past the tree struck by the vehicle when it left the road.
“Therefore, we conclude that the state’s fault consists of the fact that it put in place a guardrail which was too short in length and terminated in close proximity to a large tree. These failures were further complicated by the fact the guardrail was adjacent to a fairly acute curve which many drivers could be expected to enter at an excessive speed,” the commission stated.
“Because of its negligence, we attribute 37.5 percent of the comparative fault in causing this accident to the state.”
Buckner, 18, died as the result of a single-vehicle crash in the 9600 block of Hixson Pike, around 12:55 a.m., after the vehicle in which she was a passenger, left the roadway and struck a tree. She was killed instantly. Buckner was a senior at Baylor School in Chattanooga, and was set to graduate June 4, only a few weeks after the accident.
Buckner was a cheerleader for the basketball and football teams, a member of the Baylor choir and the Baylor dance team. She was also a member of the Baylor theater and served a year as manager of the basketball team.
Buckner and the driver of the vehicle, who was not charged as a result of the accident, were best friends and planned to room together at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville that fall.