Tennessee Court Emphasizes That Dangerous Conditions Must Actually Cause Harm

One 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.

As an example, in a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court held that although a dangerous sidewalk existed, the plaintiff could not show that she was hurt by it. S.L. was a homeowner in Newbern, Tennessee, where she also owned several rental properties. One day, she was showing a rental property to a couple that was down the street from her own home. As she walked to meet the couple at the rental unit, she fell on the sidewalk and injured her mouth and knees. She eventually had to have surgery on her right knee. Approximately a year later, she sued the City of Newborn, arguing that the City knew that the sidewalk on the street was in very poor condition and that it had failed to address this dangerous and defective condition. S.L. argued that this dangerous condition caused her injuries.

At trial, S.L. testified as to the circumstances of her accident and the condition of the sidewalk. She claimed that she fell immediately upon walking on the sidewalk but did not know exactly what caused her fall. S.L. also introduced pictures of the poor condition of the sidewalk, but no one definitively testified to witnessing S.L.’s fall or knowing what caused it. After the trial, the court found that the sidewalk was in defective condition but that S.L. had not provided proof that the sidewalk actually caused her fall. Accordingly, it dismissed her claim. S.L. appealed.

On appeal, the appellate court noted that one of the primary elements that must be proven by a plaintiff in a negligence claim is that the negligent conduct was the cause in fact and the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Since there were no witnesses to S.L.’s fall, the question of causation rested on her own testimony. S.L. testified that she did not know what caused her fall and could not explain exactly why she fell. As a result, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that there was no evidence to conclusively demonstrate that the sidewalk was the basis for the accident. Moreover, the appellate court also noted that courts will not presume that negligence occurred because there was an accident or injury. Instead, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the accident or injury actually arose from negligence or a dangerous condition, rather than an intervening event or a different issue. On this basis, it affirmed the trial court.

Even when an explanation for an accident or injury may seem clearly tied to a dangerous condition or negligent situation, plaintiffs must never forget to provide evidence and testimony to establish such causation. Experienced premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate any gaps in your causation argument and determine how to address them through the proper introduction of evidence at trial. If you have recently been in an accident and are uncertain about your rights, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Landlord Liability Even for Open and Obvious Conditions In Tennessee, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 4, 2017

Tennessee Court Finds Lack of Knowledge of Dangerous Condition Sufficient For Summary Judgment, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, July 7, 2016

What Constitutes a Known Dangerous Condition in Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 7, 2016

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