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What Constitutes a Known Dangerous Condition in Tennessee?

broken glassAs the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.  Things that may not be obvious at first glance often become painfully clear after the fact.  Such is the case for many of the dangerous conditions that present themselves in personal injury and premises liability cases.  While a broken stair or a slick sidewalk may seem innocuous at first, after a life-changing accident, it can become all too obvious that the circumstances constituted a dangerous condition that should have been addressed.  However, not all injuries arise from dangerous conditions.  Some are simply the consequence of bad luck or unfortunate circumstances.  How do courts tell the difference?  A recent case in the Tennessee Court of Appeals addresses this issue.

In Singletary v. Gatlinburlier, a seemingly impossible set of circumstances gave rise to a tragic accident.  While inside the Gatlinburlier Tobaccoist, Carol Singletary became suddenly light-headed and fainted into an antique glass display case.  Her fall onto the glass caused the glass to shatter, and a single piece of glass pierced Ms. Singletary’s skin, piercing her heart. She died almost instantly.

Shortly after her death, her husband filed suit against the Gatlinburlier, arguing that since the antique glass case was contained in a “cluttered” aisle within the store, and the glass was fragile, it constituted a dangerous condition for which the store was liable. In response, the store took the position that it had no knowledge of the dangerous nature of the glass case and had acted with reasonable care toward its customers at all times.  On this basis, it filed a motion for summary judgment against Mr. Singletary’s claims, and the trial court agreed.  Mr. Singletary appealed.

On appeal, he argued that the trial court had wrongly determined that the Gatlinburlier did not breach a duty of care, since it did not cause Ms. Singletary’s fall and was unaware that the glass case might break in such a situation.  According to Mr. Singletary, the store should have known that the case was antique and had nonshatterproof glass, which could break under the weight of a fall.  The appellate court, however, disagreed. It noted that the Gatlinburlier had provided evidence to show that such antique display cases were common in stores throughout the area, and this particular case had withstood numerous incidents in which it had been banged against, pushed, or otherwise jarred by customers without breaking. Furthermore, it had been regularly maintained by the Gatlinburlier and had never showed signs of becoming fragile. Based on such facts, the appellate court sided with the trial court, finding that there was no way the store would have known that the glass would shatter as it did, and thus Ms. Singletary’s injury was not foreseeable.

After a tragic accident, in the midst of grief and anger, it is a natural instinct to want to hold some party or individual accountable for what has happened. However, negligence and personal injury claims cannot be sustained simply because an injury has occurred. Instead, a party must be able to show that the defendant acted carelessly in some manner and that such a careless action led to the accident that occurred. A dangerous condition must have existed of which the defendant knew or should have known.

If you have suffered an injury that you believe was caused by a dangerous condition, experienced premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate whether you may have a strong claim for damages.  For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Personal Injuries and Dirty Bathrooms: Edwards v. CSX Transp., Inc., Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, May 11, 2016.

The Complexities of Bringing Personal Injury Claims Against International Corporations in Tennessee, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog,  March 10, 2016

Do Curbs For Wheelchair Ramps Constitute Dangerous Conditions In Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 27, 2016.