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Tennessee Court Evaluates Comparative Negligence

Sometimes when an accident occurs, the cause of the accident can easily be assigned to one person. For example, a drunk driver may hit another driver who is cautiously driving down the road. Other times, the cause can be more convoluted. While a perpetrator may be driving recklessly down the road, the victim may likewise be speeding at the time the accident occurs.

A recent Tennessee premises liability case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at a question of complicated negligence and evaluates how fault should be assigned to the various parties involved. R.O. was a builder in Tennessee who visited the East Nashville Convenience Center to dispose of building materials. The Convenience Center was a place where local residents could go to dispose of trash too big for normal pickup. The Convenience Center had two levels, one with trash bins below and one above where individuals could park their cars to throw their trash down into the lower bins. To avoid cars falling off the upper level, it was surrounded by a concrete barrier that had several holes, or cuts, used for drainage purposes.

R.O. drove his truck up to a parking spot on the upper level and got out of his car to dispose of his trash. He stood on the concrete barrier to make it easier to throw trash down below and walked back and forth from his car to the bin. While attempting to dump his trash, he stepped into one of the cuts used for drainage purposes and fell five feet below to the lower level, breaking his arm. Shortly thereafter, he sued the Metropolitan Government of Nashville for maintaining a dangerous condition at the Convenience Center and failing to properly warn citizens.

At trial, R.O. presented an expert who testified as to why the drainage cuts were abnormally dangerous and how the Convenience Center could have better protected individuals like R.O. by warning them about the cuts in advance, placing a railing around the cuts, or marking them with bright paint. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found the Metro responsible and allocated 80 percent of fault to the Metro and 20 percent to R.O. The Metro appealed.

On appeal, the Metro argued that 50 percent or more of the fault should have been assigned to R.O. Under Tennessee’s comparative negligence laws, when a plaintiff is 50 percent or more responsible, he or she cannot recover damages from the defendant. Metro argued that R.O. should have been more aware of the drainage cuts in the barrier, and he had failed to exhibit proper safe behavior when walking on top of the concrete barriers and failing to carefully survey where he was going.

The Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that the evidence showed that R.O. had been acting similarly to many other users of the Convenience Center, who also walked on top of the concrete barriers to better access the trash bins, and R.O. had no reason to suspect that there would be drainage cuts on the barriers or to look out for them. Since Metro did not warn customers about the cuts, did not provide any signage, and did not visibly mark the cuts, the Court of Appeals held there was no reason for R.O. to be on the lookout for them or alter his behavior in any way. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held it was proper for the lower court to have awarded 80 percent of the fault to the Metro.

Before bringing a lawsuit, all plaintiffs must carefully evaluate whether they have potential liability for their own accident and, if so, whether they might be found 50 percent or more responsible for the accident that occurred. Dedicated premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate your potential liability in a lawsuit and whether it makes sense to bring claims against another defendant. If you have recently been injured and are uncertain about your rights, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Holds That Plaintiff Can Add Comparative Fault Defendants To Claim, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 9, 2018

Tennessee Court Rejects Claim that Doorframe Was Dangerous Condition, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 9, 2017.

Tennessee Court Grants Summary Judgment When No Risk Could Have Been Anticipated, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 21, 2017

Tennessee Court Finds No Claim of Emotional Distress Exists for Property