Articles Posted in Slip and Fall Injury

While in most situations it is preferable for Tennessee property owners to avoid dangerous conditions on their property altogether, in some cases it simply is not possible for owners to do so. They may need to make a repair, update construction, or start a project that necessarily leaves a dangerous condition temporarily on the property. When this happens, it becomes imperative that property owners properly warn others who enter the property so that they know that a dangerous condition exists.

A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at whether a dangerous condition was properly flagged for others and whether reasonable precautions were put in place. In this case, L.R. was injured after she slipped and fell on a wet hallway floor outside her classroom at a local middle school.  Earlier that day, custodians at the school had noticed that water was spilled on the hallway floor. They decided to mop up the water, which was on the left side of the hallway. They placed signs in a small area of the hallway to indicate to others that the floor was wet. However, they then proceeded to continue to mop the remainder of the hallway, going all the way over to the right side where L.R.’s classroom was located. The custodians did not move any of their signs to indicate this broader wet floor, and did not warn L.R. although she was in the classroom at the time.

Shortly thereafter, L.R. exited her classroom and fell almost immediately after she slipped on the wet floor. She was injured and sued the school for her injuries, alleging they had failed to properly warn of the hazard. The court, after listening to the testimony of the witnesses and reviewing security video footage of the fall, agreed with L.R. and found that the school had been negligent in failing to properly warn L.R. of the dangerous fall. The school district appealed.

Knowledge is a central component of any Tennessee negligence claim. In order for one party to be held liable for negligence toward a dangerous condition that leads to the injury of another, that party must have actual or constructive knowledge that the dangerous condition existed. This protects individuals from being held responsible for conditions or circumstances that they knew nothing about.

While defendants in a negligence case must have knowledge, they can’t use the knowledge requirement to shield themselves from liability. That is, they can’t remain willfully ignorant of a situation or circumstance so that they are not responsible for it. Instead, if they reasonably should have known, they can be held liable on that basis. A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case looks at a circumstance where even reasonable efforts could not have discovered the danger that was alleged.

In this Tennessee premise liability case, O.J. sued Goodwill Industries after she was injured in an accident at one of their Tennessee stores. O.J. entered the store looking for furniture and noticed a plastic table and chairs sitting near a storefront. She moved the plastic chair and sat down on it in order to test it out. As she sat down, the chair collapsed, breaking and causing her to fall and hit her head. She sued Goodwill for her injuries, arguing that Goodwill had failed to reasonably inspect the structural strength of the chair and that, if it had, it would have known the chair was defective and should not have been placed on the store floor.

Under Tennessee law, summary judgment is a ruling that is reserved only for those cases where there are no disputes of material fact, and no way for the plaintiff or defendant to succeed in light of the facts that have been presented. Because the standard is so high, summary judgment is only rarely granted, and most cases are left for the jury to decide. Sometimes, however, courts may incorrectly read the facts, and believe that there is less dispute than there really is. When this happens, summary judgment can be granted inappropriately, as in a recent premises liability case.

In this case, A.S. sued S.S. for injuries that she incurred while catering an event at S.S.’s home. As part of the event, the caterers were required to use a back entrance and set of steps when coming in and out of the home. A.S. went up and down these steps several times over the course of the evening, in the light, without issue. However, at the end of the night, she descended the steps in the dark holding onto a railing. A.S. could not see the railing and did not notice that it had ended. As she leaned forward to continue to grab onto it, she fell forward and down the stairs, severely injuring herself. A.S. filed claims against S.S. alleging that S.S. had been negligent in failing to properly light the stairs and fix the guardrail. In response, S.S. initially argued that the stairs had been lit and that the area was not dangerous when A.S. descended.

Later on, after discovery was completed, S.S. moved for summary judgment and argued that, in fact, the lights had been off and the time of the accident and that A.S. was negligent for failing to turn them on before she descended the steps. The trial court agreed and granted the summary judgment motion. A.S. appealed.

Sometimes when a plaintiff is injured as a result of another’s actions, or a dangerous condition, he or she will not know precisely which defendants may need to be sued. For example, a plaintiff may sue a business for a cracked sidewalk, but might not know whether the business owns the property or if there is another landlord who should be included.

One way to discover additional defendants is through comparative fault. Where a defendant is sued and that defendant believes there are other parties who should be considered as being at fault for the accident, they may file a notice of comparative fault, designating other individuals as entities as partially responsible for the accident. This works to hopefully limit the defendant’s own liability, but also alerts the plaintiff to the possibility of other potential defendants.

In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court looked at when a second defendant who is identified after a notice of comparative fault can properly be sued and how long a plaintiff has to bring a claim. In that case, M.S. sued Publix grocery stores after she fell at her local grocery store while taking her grocery purchases to her car. According to the lawsuit, there was a loose mat outside the elevator that M.S. was using and she tripped on the mat, causing her injuries. M.S. was aware that Publix had a landlord and sued the landlord, known as the Hill Defendants, as well. At the time of her initial suit, Publix filed a notice of comparative fault identifying the Hill Defendants as potentially at fault in the accident. Shortly thereafter, for unknown reasons, M.S. dismissed the Hill Defendants from the lawsuit.

Tennessee premises liability actions can arise under any circumstances in which a property owner fails to take care of dangerous conditions or does not warn guests of existing hazards. In the winter, however, these kinds of actions can become even more common as guests and customers attempt to navigate their way through snow, ice, and everything in between. As the below case illustrates, landlords and tenants must be conscious of the dangers imposed by winter weather.

In this parking lot case, T.N. was leaving a tanning session at Elite Beach Tanning Company when she slipped and fell on ice hidden below a pile of slush. T.N. did not realize the ice was there as she stepped down, fell, and injured herself. At the time of the fall, T.N. was in a parking lot adjacent to Elite, which was owned by the landlord, First Bank. T.N. sued Elite, First Bank, and the company responsible for maintaining the parking lot for her injuries. After initial discovery, Elite moved for summary judgment by arguing that T.N. could not establish that Elite owed her a duty to keep the parking spaces safe. As support for the motion, Elite attached a copy of its lease agreement with First Bank, which clearly stated that First Bank was responsible for maintaining common areas, including the parking lot. Given this agreement, the lower court granted the motion for summary judgment. T.N. was granted an interlocutory appeal and appealed to the Court of Appeals.

On appeal, T.N. argued that Elite owed her a duty to protect her from dangers in the parking spaces for two reasons. First, she argued that Elite assumed control over the parking spaces when it kept them free from employee cars and directed customers to park there. Second, she argued that since the parking spots were only 15 feet away from Elite’s front door and could clearly be seen, they constituted part of Elite’s approach, for which Elite was responsible.

When a plaintiff files a complaint in a lawsuit, he or she must take great care to include all relevant facts that help establish his or her case. While plaintiffs are not required to include every single little detail related to the case, they must include sufficient information so that a court, taking their allegations as true, could find that a claim exists. Sometimes after an initial complaint is filed, a plaintiff will realize that certain important information is missing, or will discover new information that he or she would like to add. When this happens, a plaintiff can file a motion to amend, which, if granted, allows the plaintiff to amend the complaint to add additional information or clarify. As the case below demonstrates, courts generally allow motions to amend, if reasonable, and should consider this amended information when deciding whether to dismiss a case.

In this premise liability case, the plaintiff, B.S., was a bus driver who was attending a school district training conducted by the Nashville government. She was not allowed to drive her own bus to the training but was required to take a shuttle. After she parked her bus and began walking toward the shuttle, she tripped on a buckled and uneven portion of the parking lot pavement, causing her to fall and sustain injuries. The buckling was the result of flooding that had occurred in Nashville in 2010, three years before B.S.’s fall.

B.S. sued the Nashville government for its failure to adequately maintain the parking lot. She argued that the parking lot had been in a state of disrepair for such a long time that the government should have been aware of the condition, but failed to fix it or to warn her of the problems. Several months after the filing of the initial complaint, B.S. moved to amend her complaint to add an additional claim of negligence based on the parking lot’s failure to meet applicable building codes. B.S. had retained an expert to review the relevant building codes and the state of the parking lot and determined that the government was not in compliance. At the time of B.S.’s motion to amend, the Nashville government had a pending motion for summary judgment against B.S.

In 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.

Plaintiffs 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.

In 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.

Landlords 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.