Tennessee Court Reverses Lower Court In Premise Liability Case

In 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.

In this Knox County case, the plaintiff, H.R., brought a lawsuit after falling while attempting to collect a food order from Ruby Tuesdays. H.R. was a sales consultant who was on her way to provide lunch to a doctor’s office of potential customers. She ordered several trays of food from Ruby Tuesdays, along with tea and two bags of ice. Because she was in a hurry to make her sales call, she asked the restaurant to have the order out and ready to go when she arrived, and called to confirm that it was out and ready shortly before she got there. When she arrived, the food and the ice were sitting on a ledge and, according to Ruby Tuesday employees, had been sitting there for some time. For this reason, the ice had begun to melt in the bag, forming condensation on the bag. As H.R. took the order to leave, the condensation dripped off the ice and onto the floor, causing a puddle on which H.R. slipped and fell. Although H.R. initially felt okay, she suffered ongoing knee pain that she has not been able to fully treat. H.R. sued Ruby Tuesday for her injuries.

At the lower court level, several witnesses from Ruby Tuesday testified that they knew if the ice sat out for a long period of time, it was likely to start to melt and form condensation. Further, one of H.R.’s experts testified that this was well understood in the food and restaurant industry and that it was generally standard practice to keep bags of ice in a freezer until customers arrived to retrieve them. Despite this evidence, Ruby Tuesday moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not have actual, or constructive knowledge of the possibility of harm for H.R. because the puddle only formed when H.R. arrived and grabbed her bag of ice. The lower court agreed and granted the motion.

On appeal, H.R. argued that it was reasonably foreseeable that ice left out over a long period of time would start to melt, and that this could cause water to drip. Moreover, Ruby Tuesday knew that the bag had been sitting out for a while before H.R. picked it up. H.R. argued that it was this broader knowledge that created a duty to warn H.R. about the risk from the ice, or to prevent the ice from beginning to melt in the first place. The Appeals Court agreed. It held that the injury causing condition was not simply the water on the floor, but also the melted bag of ice with condensation on it. Because Ruby Tuesday had knowledge of this bag of ice and the condition it was in, and H.R. did not have such knowledge, Ruby Tuesday had a duty to H.R. Additionally, the potential risks of harm from failing to protect H.R. from harm far outweighed the burden on Ruby Tuesday, which mostly involved putting the ice in a freezer. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court and remanded for further proceedings.

If you are considering bringing a negligence or premise liability claim, it is important to try to define the cause of your injury as broadly as possible, as this will make it easier to argue that the defendants had knowledge of the cause or dangerous conditions. Here, by expanding the cause of the injury to include not only the water, but the ice, the plaintiff was able to show Ruby Tuesday had knowledge of the injury. Trial-ready premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help you craft a cause of injury argument that will be most advantageous to you in litigation, and he will fight to have that argument adopted by the court. 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 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 Damage, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 6, 2017

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

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