Implied Negligence Claims in Tennessee – Dennis v. Donelson Corporate Centre

Typically, when a plaintiff alleges a claim of negligence in Tennessee courts, the plaintiff must prove all the necessary elements of a negligence claim, including duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages.  Without establishing each of these elements, a negligence lawsuit cannot succeed.  However, in certain circumstances, a plaintiff may bring a negligence claim under a doctrine know as res ipsa loquitur, or implied negligence. This is a doctrine that can be invoked when a plaintiff believes that negligence has occurred but is without access to all the facts necessary to prove each element of negligence. Instead, the plaintiff must show that the circumstances of an injury are such that negligence can instead be implied under the law.  A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and when it can be successfully invoked.

In Dennis v. Donelson Corporate Centre, the defendant owned a building that included an elevator. The defendant was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the elevator and claimed that it had inspected the elevator regularly in 2012, including at the beginning of December 2012. On December 7, 2012, the plaintiff, Ms. Dennis, used the elevator to enter and exit the building. During her exit of the elevator, the elevator failed to stop level with the floor, instead stopping several inches below the floor. When Ms. Dennis exited the elevator, she tripped and fell, leading to injuries that required surgery. After the injury, two inspectors came out to inspect the elevator, but they could not recreate the problem that had led to Ms. Dennis’ fall, and they could not determine what the source of that elevator error might have been.  Shortly thereafter, she sued for negligence. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and it was granted. Ms. Dennis appealed.

On appeal, Ms. Dennis argued that she had shown that there were material issues of fact as to whether the defendant was liable under the res ipsa loquitur theory of negligence, and thus her claims should not have been dismissed at the summary judgment stage. Specifically, Ms. Dennis argued that based on her injury and the circumstances of the injury, it could be inferred that the defendant had been negligent.

Res ipsa loquitur negligence in Tennessee requires that the plaintiff prove that (1) the injury experienced was likely the result of negligence, and (2) it was probably the defendant that was negligent. In order to do this, the plaintiff must show how the injury occurred, that the event that caused the injury does not typically lead to an injury in the absence of negligence, and that the thing that injured the plaintiff was in the defendant’s exclusive control.  Here, the appellate court found that the plaintiff had established the first element but not the second one. Specifically, the court noted that it was possible that the plaintiff could have tripped and fallen and hurt herself even if the elevator had been level with the floor, and thus she had not shown that her trip and fall would not have led to an injury but for the defendant’s alleged negligence. Since this element was not met by the plaintiff, the appellate court determined that the trial court did not err in finding that res ipsa loquitor negligence did not apply in this case, and accordingly summary judgment was appropriate.

This Tennessee decision explains the complexities of alleging an implied negligence claim and the unique elements that must be proven in order to be successful. If you have recently been a victim of an accident involving another party’s negligence and are wondering whether you should bring a traditional negligence claim, an implied negligence claim, or both, knowledgeable premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate which option may be best for 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:

Premise Liability for Unmarked Drop Offs In Tennessee, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 28, 2016

Direct and Vicarious Liability in Tennessee – Can Employers Be Held Liable for Both?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 20, 2016

How Do I File a Slip and Fall Claim in Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 16, 2016.