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The Duty of Reasonable Care in Tennessee When Assisting Others in Dangerous Activities

ladderA duty of reasonable care can arise in many different types of circumstances. We often think of duties owed by professionals, business owners, or landlords, but the average individual also owes a duty of care when he or she takes on activities in which carefulness and safety are necessary.  In a recent case before the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, the court took a look at one scenario in which such a duty may arise:  while working with ladders in possibly dangerous conditions.

In Hoynacki v. Hoynacki, the plaintiff, Hoynacki Jr., was helping his father, Hoynacki Sr., wax his father’s RV. Since the RV was so tall, they used a five-foot ladder to reach the upper portions of the RV. When Hoynacki Jr. would get on the ladder, his father would hold the ladder for him until he determined that it was stable, and then Hoynacki Jr. would proceed to wax.  At one point, toward the end of their work, Hoynacki Jr. climbed the ladder while it was on sloped ground. Although the four feet of the ladder touched the ground, when Hoynacki Jr. went to descend the ladder, it tipped over, and he fell, resulting in serious injuries. He sued his father, alleging that his father had failed to exercise reasonable care by not holding onto the ladder while Hoynacki Jr. was working, or assisting him when he descended. Hoynacki Sr. moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted it, finding that he did not owe a duty of care to his son. Hoynacki Jr. appealed.

In Tennessee, a claim of negligence requires that a plaintiff show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, breached that duty, and caused an injury to the plaintiff.  When a duty of care is not set forth by law, it can arise when the possibility of harm arising from the defendant’s actions outweighs the burden placed on the defendant to engage in alternative conduct that would avoid the harm. In this case, Hoynacki Jr. argued that Hoynacki Sr. did have a duty to act with reasonable care in ensuring that the ladder was placed in the correct location and remained safe while Hoynacki Jr. was on it. In support of this argument, he presented evidence at deposition that each party stayed close to the ladder while the other was working on it, and both knew that ladders could be dangerous. If Hoynacki Sr. felt the ladder might be unstable, he would hold onto it while Hoynacki Jr. worked, except in the incident in which the fall occurred.

Based on these facts, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that Hoynacki Sr. did have a duty to stabilize and secure the ladder because he knew that the risk existed for Hoynacki Jr. to fall and hurt himself. Additionally, the court determined that the burden on Hoynacki Sr. to prevent the harm that Hoynacki Jr. experienced was minor, given that all he had to do was hold the ladder while Hoynacki Jr. was on it. Accordingly, since a duty of care existed, the court of appeals remanded the case back to the trial court for a determination of whether the duty of care was breached.

If you are injured while working in a risky or potentially dangerous situation, and you believe that one of your colleagues failed to act with reasonable care in contributing to your injury, you may have a claim of negligence. Experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate whether you have a strong claim that someone else violated their duty of care to you. 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:

Tennessee Courts Consider When a Party Can Be Held Liable for an Agent’s Negligence, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 12, 2016.

Sixth Circuit Denies Negligence Claim For Lack of Physical Injury, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, September 21, 2016.

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