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Do Curbs for Wheelchair Ramps Constitute Dangerous Conditions in Tennessee?

SONY DSC Individuals and companies that own land or buildings owe a duty to the public to exercise due care in order to prevent the general public from being injured on their property. This often means that property owners must address known dangerous conditions on their land or in their buildings, or must make the public aware of such dangerous conditions by reasonably warning them of the risks. Property owners are not, however, required to prevent any and all injuries that might occur to an individual while on their property. This is simply impossible. Instead, landowners must only protect against those dangers or injuries that can be reasonably anticipated. A question that recently arose in the Tennessee courts is what to do when it is unclear whether the condition is one that should have been recognized as dangerous by the landowner.

In Gary Lee Steele v. Primehealth Medical Center, P.C., the issue of dangerous conditions arose when a delivery worker was making a delivery to a building owned by Primehealth. According to Mr. Steele, he was walking along the sidewalk in front of the building when the sidewalk suddenly dropped off and he fell, resulting in lingering harm and injuries. Mr. Steele sued Primehealth and argued that the company was negligent in both creating a dangerous condition on its sidewalk and failing to properly warn the public about such a condition. In response, Primehealth moved for summary judgment against Mr. Steele’s claims and explained that the drop off in the sidewalk was for a clearly marked wheelchair ramp down to the street, that the condition was not dangerous or hazardous, and that they could not have anticipated that Mr. Steele would have hurt himself.  In support of their argument, Primehealth employed an expert to discuss the design of the wheelchair ramp and testify as to how it confirmed with standard building codes.

The trial court agreed with Primehealth, finding that there was no evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim that the curb constituted a dangerous condition and that Mr. Steele would have to have provided an expert to testify to such an effect in order to have created a genuine issue of material fact. Mr. Steele appealed.

On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that Mr. Steele was not required to present an expert to show that the curb constituted a dangerous condition, since the hazardous nature of the curb was clearly an issue that could be comprehended without expert testimony. However, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that the lay evidence provided by Mr. Steele in support of his claim was insufficient to support a claim for negligence.

While Mr. Steele provided pictures of the curb and his own testimony that he did not notice the sudden drop off in the curb, the appellate court concluded that there was a “paucity” of evidence presented by the plaintiff, especially in light of the defendant’s testimony that the curb was constructed consistent with city codes, to suggest that the condition of the curb and wheelchair ramp was dangerous or defective.  The appellate court noted that a landowner or property owner bears no responsibility to remove any condition from his or her property unless it could reasonably be anticipated that the condition could lead to harm.  Here, the court held that Mr. Steele did not provide sufficient proof to show that the curb was constructed such that Primehealth should have known that it would cause harm.

Although the court’s decision makes clear that expert testimony is not required for premises liability and personal injury claims, plaintiffs who choose not to employ experts must be careful to ensure that they have collected sufficient evidence to support their claims.

If you are concerned that a dangerous condition on property or in a building may have contributed to your injuries, or the injuries of a loved one, personal injury attorney Eric Beasley may be able to assist you in evaluating your potential premises liability claim.  Mr. Beasley has assisted accident victims throughout Tennessee in bringing claims against negligent property owners and is available to answer your questions. For more information, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Personal Injury Claims Resulting From Home Construction Defects – Who Is Liable?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 18, 2015.

Evaluating Dangerous Road Conditions in Tennessee – When Is Notice of Risk Enough?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 19, 2015.

Laws An Accident Attorney in Tennessee Knows That Can Help Your Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 24, 2014.