Articles Posted in Slip and Fall Injury

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business doorsIn the day to day realities of life, we all have our moments when we trip while walking. We may be checking our phones, talking to someone else, or simply day dreaming the day away when we trip on a surface or object we didn’t see. If we’re lucky, we catch ourselves; if not, we fall. Despite the thousands of trips that occur every day, most do not rise to the level of a tort claim or negligence because the thing that caused us to fall was not inherently dangerous, or the owner of the property or object had no reason to believe any danger existed. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, one plaintiff tried to push a claim for negligence too far, arguing that a simple feature was enough to support his negligence claim.

In this Tennessee premises liability case, R.B. was in the process of getting routine drug testing for his work when he tripped and fell on a door frame leading into the testing facility. R.B. had been in the facility before without problem, but this time around, he was talking on the phone and not generally observing where he was going, so he did not notice the door frame as he tripped. The door frame raised slightly above the ground to accommodate the door, but it was not excessive or unusual in any respect. Despite these facts and circumstances, R.B. sued the location for negligence, alleging that the frame had caused his injuries because it was unreasonably dangerous.

The testing facility, Accurate, immediately responded with a summary judgment motion.  It made three arguments:  (1) that R.B. could not show that the door frame was unreasonably dangerous; (2) that R.B. could not show that anyone at Accurate was on notice of a dangerous condition; and (3) that R.B. was at least 50% liable for his injuries. In support of the summary judgment motion, Accurate attached photographs of the premises and the door frame, as well as deposition testimony from its facility manager, who stated that R.B. had never had any prior problems entering the premises, nor had any other visitors.

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cell phonePlaintiffs who bring negligence and personal injury claims in court are often focused on gathering all of the evidence possible to show that the defendant is guilty of having caused harm. Often, in these cases, the actual injury suffered by the plaintiff becomes secondary. While proving an injury may seem like a simple matter that is less significant than proving fault, a failure to show an injury can easily end a Tennessee personal injury case. As a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals shows, plaintiffs must be careful not to neglect the importance of showing to a court that the harm they suffered was real.

In this recent prison case, J.M. alleged that he was injured after the power went off at his cell at the Turney Center Industrial Complex. According to J.M., the power went off for several days at the prison, leaving prisoners stuck in darkness. While trying to get out of his top bunk on one of those nights to go to the bathroom, J.M. missed the table on which he normally stepped because he could not see it in the dark, and he fell, hurting his knee and lower back. After discovery, the State of Tennessee moved for summary judgment on the ground that J.M. was not actually injured as a result of the fall. In support of the motion, the State submitted medical records from J.M.’s providers, which showed that J.M. had suffered from knee pain prior to the fall and that neither back nor knee x-rays showed any evidence of a traumatic injury after the fall.

In response to this evidence, the claims commissioner granted the State’s motion for summary judgment, finding that J.M. had not met his burden to show that he experienced an injury or loss as a result of the State’s actions. J.M. appealed this conclusion.

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cleaningIn a premises liability case, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant had either actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that led to the accident. Actual knowledge occurs when the defendant observed the dangerous condition or created it. Constructive knowledge arises when the defendant should have known about the dangerous condition. One way that constructive knowledge can be proven is when there is a pattern of conduct or recurring incidents such that the defendant reasonably should have been on notice of a problem. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at what it takes to prove negligence based on recurring incidents and patterns of conduct.

In a Tennessee premises liability case, W.K. was attending a concert at the Bridgestone Arena when she went to buy a drink at the concession stand. On her way, she slipped and fell on a large pool of liquid that had gathered between sections of seats. At the time of her fall, several employees were standing around the spill, and W.K. alleged that one of them had a broom and dustpan. After the fall, W.K.’s injuries required several surgeries, and she sued for damages. After discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that they did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. In response, W.K. argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants had constructive knowledge because (1) several employees were standing near the spill at the time of the fall; (2) Bridgestone’s policy was for employees not to clean up spills until an event was over; and (3) there were multiple spills in the arena throughout the night, including one spill in a section near hers a little over an hour before her fall.

The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that W.K. had not established how and when the liquid was spilled, how long it had been there, whether employees had noticed or reported it, or whether the defendant was generally on notice of it. Accordingly, the trial court held there was no constructive knowledge. W.K. appealed.

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lightbulbLandlords owe a duty of reasonable care to their tenants. If a landlord knows that his or her property has a dangerous condition like a faulty railing or exposed electrical wire, there is a duty to correct such a known dangerous condition or face possible legal repercussions down the road. However, landlords generally are not responsible for dangerous conditions that the tenant creates himself during the course of renting the property. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at when a dangerous condition is a landlord’s responsibility and when it is in the hands of the tenant.

In this Tennessee premises liability case, K.H. brought claims against her landlord, Group Properties, LLP, after she was injured by a light fixture that fell from her kitchen ceiling. Shortly after moving into her property, K.H. noticed that there was a water leak in her kitchen ceiling, near the light. She alerted her landlord, and one of the owners inspected the property. He was unable to determine the source of the leak and did not fix it. K.H.’s kitchen ceiling continued to leak, and, according to K.H., she continued to alert Group Properties, LLP of the problem. Nothing was done in response to her complaints, and several months later, K.H.’s ceiling light fell while K.H. was cooking dinner. Water had entered the ceiling fixture and caused it to collapse. After it hit K.H., she slipped on the additional water and suffered further injuries to her back and legs. She sued Group Properties, LLP for damages.

The trial court found Group Properties liable for negligence because Group Properties was on notice of the leak but did nothing to fix it. It entered an award of damages to K.H. to cover her medical expenses and pain and suffering. Group Properties appealed.

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splash-1256376-300x200In the most recent in a series of premise liability cases that have recently come before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the Court recently reversed a grant of summary judgment on a slip-and-fall accident case. The case centered on an issue common to many premise liability disputes: whether the defendant, Ruby Tuesday, had actual knowledge, or should have known, of a risk of harm to the plaintiff when she fell after slipping on water that melted off a bag of ice that the plaintiff has just received from the restaurant. While the lower court held that Ruby Tuesday could not have known of the water on the floor because it happened only when the Plaintiff attempted to leave, the appeals court held that the cause of the fall should be viewed more broadly.

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truckTennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act governs how and when government agencies can be held liable for torts that may occur on their property or that have been committed by their employees. Under the GTLA, government agencies are generally immune from suit when injuries result from the government doing its job, unless certain exceptions apply. One of those exceptions is for negligent acts or omissions of government employees acting within the scope of their employment. Recently, a prisoner brought a Tennessee injury case to determine whether cities and counties in Tennessee are liable for injuries that occur on prisoner work details.

In this recent case, S.E. was serving a sentence at the Coffee County jail in Tennessee, where he was assigned to a work detail that involved cleaning up public properties in the City of Manchester, Tennessee. S.E. fell off a pickup truck while on the job and injured his head. He sued both the City of Manchester and Coffee County for his injuries, medical expenses, and damages. Coffee County settled with S.E., but S.E. continued to pursue claims against the City of Manchester. In response, the City moved to dismiss S.E.’s complaint, arguing that it was immune from liability under the GTLA. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. S.E. appealed.

On appeal, S.E. argued that under the exception to the GTLA for negligent acts by employees, the City was not immune from liability because a police officer with the City of Manchester was supervising the work detail at the time. The City countered by pointing to Tennessee Statute 41-2-123(d)(2), which provides that states, municipalities, and their employees are not liable to prisoners or a prisoner’s family for death or injuries sustained on work detail, other than for medical treatment due to the injury while the prisoner is in prison. Here, medical treatment had been provided to S.E. after his injury, and the City took the position that it was not liable for any additional claims. In response, S.E. argued that the GTLA took precedence over the statute identified by the City. After reviewing the two statutes, the Court of Appeals disagreed.

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staircasePremises liability and negligence claims arise when property owners have knowledge of circumstance or conditions on their property that could potentially cause harm, but they do not do anything to address those risks. While knowledge or awareness of a risk can be broadly interpreted, courts have consistently held that property owners should not be held liable for conditions that they could not have anticipated would cause harm. Thus, when a stair breaks unexpectedly, without reason, the owner of the stairs usually will not be at fault. Similarly, as discussed in the case below, when a restaurant owner has never had problems with the safety of a handrail before, and a fall occurs, the restaurant owner will not be held responsible unless he had some indication that the injury and fall could happen.

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water spillBringing claims in a Tennessee courtroom can be expensive. Getting a case ready for trial takes extensive preparation, discovery, and long days and nights thinking through the details of the case. This means that fees can add up, and lawyers may seem too expensive to consider. In these circumstances, some plaintiffs decide to go it alone in their case, acting as a pro se plaintiff, or a plaintiff without representation, in the courtroom. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates the complexity of bringing a premises liability lawsuit without an attorney and the care that must be taken in proving all of the elements of a negligence or failure to warn claim.

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cracked pavementOne of the most overlooked aspects of any negligence claim is the requirement that a plaintiff show that the danger or harm she experienced actually caused the injuries that were incurred. Often, when an accident or injury occurs, and a dangerous condition existed, we simply assume that the two are connected. In court, however, plaintiffs bear the burden of making this connection, and without it, a court will not find a defendant responsible.

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handrailWhen dealing with premises liability and other personal injury cases, it is well accepted that landlords and owners have a duty to warn those entering or using their property of known dangerous conditions. If a plaintiff does not know that a condition exists, it is impossible for them to avoid it, and an injury or even death can result. When a landlord or an owner makes a plaintiff aware of a dangerous condition, but the plaintiff knowingly decides to encounter it anyway, liability may transfer from the defendant to the plaintiff. That is, the plaintiff may become comparatively negligent, and the defendant may be absolved from liability. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals deals with one of the more rare circumstances in a comparative negligence claim – when a plaintiff is aware of the risk and knowingly encounters it, but the defendant may still be liable for the injury that results.

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