Torts I, Page 268–270

Sullivan v. Crabtree

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, 1953


Plaintiffs' son was killed while riding as a guest with defendant in someone else's tractor-trailer truck which swerved off the highway and overturned down a steep embankment. Plaintiff did not know what caused him to lose control and go off the road, but believed it to be something with hitting the edge of the pavement or a brake line coming loose.

Procedural History:

Trial verdict and judgment was in defendant's favor.


Is a driver liable for negligence under res ipsa loquitur when he goes off the road and causes harm without knowing why?

Plaintiff's Argument:

A driver owes a duty of ordinary care for the safety of his guest. Res ipsa loquitur shows defendant did not do so.


Facts show a case of res ipsa loquitur, but in most jurisdictions that merely warrants an inference of negligence that the jury may draw or not.


When a driver causes an accident by going off the road without apparent cause and causes harm, the normal inference is negligence, and res ipsa loquitur is usually held to apply.


Assignments of error overruled and the judgment of the Circuit Court is affirmed.