Articles Posted in Premises Liability

In any trip-and-fall, slip-and-fall, or other premises liability case, an important element of the case may involve the extent to which the hazard was “open and obvious.” A recent case originating in the Smoky Mountains highlights the extent to which a hazard’s open and obvious status does or does not undermine a plaintiff’s case. A hazard’s being open and obvious may raise the likelihood that an injured plaintiff was negligent in failing to avoid it, but it does not automatically immunize a defendant from liability. Even if your fall hazard was open and obvious, you may still, with the help of an experienced Tennessee premises liability attorney, be able to succeed and obtain a damages award in your case.

That recent Smoky Mountains case involved the parking area adjoining a vacation cabin in Pigeon Forge. The cabin’s parking area was in two adjacent sections. The left side was partially raised to maintain a flat surface. The right side sloped downward from the street, consistent with the hill upon which the cabin was situated. There was a railing around the left section, but it did not go all the way to the street, leaving an area of uneven surface not guarded by any railing.

One night while walking around her rental vehicle, the plaintiff accidentally stepped off that drop-off and fell, allegedly injuring her right arm in the process. The woman and her husband sued, arguing that the state of the split-level parking lot was a hazardous condition and that the owners and managers of the property were negligent in their maintenance of the parking area.

Personal injury cases that do not involve large awards for medical expenses or loss of income (earning capacity) may nonetheless result in a substantial verdict. There are many steps to achieving a truly positive result in your personal injury case, but conveying the extent to which an injury or disability has affected your day-to-day life — even in the absence of substantial economic damage — can result in a large verdict. In the case of one man recently injured in a grocery store bathroom, he and his legal team presented strong enough evidence to convince a jury, and the Court of Appeals, that he should receive a quarter-million dollar judgment for the harm he suffered.

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The daughter of a nursing home patient sought unsuccessfully to hold her father’s facility liable for the injuries she suffered when a facility worker opened a door and injured her. The woman’s case fell apart after the nursing home showed that the doors in question had, over a period of several years, no history of causing other injuries and that the doors passed all their government inspections. The woman’s proof, centered around a sign on the door and the absence of a window, showed only that an injury was possible, not likely, as required by the law.

Arlene Christian was exiting the Good Samaritan Nursing Home in Antioch after visiting her father at the facility when a worker, approaching from the opposite direction, unwittingly opened a windowless door into the woman, injuring her. Christian sued the nursing home for her injuries, alleging that several acts of negligence led to the accident. The woman sought $375,000 plus past and future medical expenses.

The nursing home asked the court to throw out the case, contending that the doors in question were not a dangerous condition, so it should not be liable for the woman’s injuries. The trial court agreed, concluding that the nursing home sufficiently demonstrated that the doors were not a dangerous condition and had no defects at the time of the accident.

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A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case dispenses some important insight regarding premises liability cases. In Christian v. Ayers L.P., the court determined that a woman injured when she fell walking along an unlit walkway adjoining a lodge should be allowed to pursue her case against the lodge’s owner. The court observed that property owners have (or should have) better knowledge of their properties than anyone else and the woman should be allowed to put her case, which centered around the lodge’s having numerous burned-out bulbs in its exterior lights, before a jury.

On a rainy night in November 2010, Cynthia Christian went to Ms. Lassie’s Lodge in Caryville to attend an American Cancer Society “Relay For Life” meeting. Traci Dower, a representative of the lodge’s owner who was in charge of the Relay for Life meeting, noticed at some point that the walkway between the lodge and the parking lot was dark and attempted to locate a light switch. In reality, no switch existed because the light fixtures were triggered by a light-sensing timer. The light fixtures worked, but many of the bulbs in them were burned out. After failing to find a light switch, Dower abandoned her attempt to light the walkway. While returning to her car after the meeting’s conclusion, Christian fell while walking along the walkway and suffered a broken arm as a result.

Christian filed a premises liability lawsuit against the lodge’s owner, accusing the owner of inadequately lighting the walkway. Before trial, the woman secured proof that Dower knew about the lighting issue before Christian took her fateful trip across the walkway. Nevertheless, the trial court granted summary judgment to the owner, concluding that the woman’s evidence did not sufficiently show that the owner had the necessary degree of awareness regarding the lighting situation to make it liable under premises liability law.

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While visitors who suffer injury while present on the property of another person often have a reasonable chance of success in a legal action against the landowner for negligence or other misconduct, Tennessee law does construct some hard-and-fast protections for landlowners. One of those shields exists when the visitor becomes injured engaging in recreational activities on the landowner’s property. This aspect of the law ultimately undercut the personal injury case of a motorcyclist paralyzed while riding on another man’s farm.

The case centered around an incident occurring on David Dossett’s farm in LaFollette, where he maintained trails for guests to drive off-road vehicles. Dossett had erected some “jumps” on the trails to allow riders to attempt leaps or other manuevers. Dossett neither trained nor supervised the riders that used his farm. In March 2008, Jordan Wilson visited the farm to ride motorcycles. While attempting a leap, Wilson crashed, with the resulting injuries leaving him paralyzed.

Wilson sued Dossett. The trial court threw the case out, though, determining that the Tennesses Code, specifically Section 70-7-102, shielded the landowner from any liability for the motorcyclist’s injuries. That statute pertains to visitors on the property who partake in recreational activities. The trial court decided that, because the motorcyclist engaged in a recreational activity, and that none of the statute’s exceptions (which are codified in Section 70-7-104) salvaged the injured man’s case.

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Business and property owners in Nashville have a duty to keep their facilities in a reasonably safe condition and to warn visitors of any dangerous hazards. A visitor who suffers an injury on another’s property may be able to bring a premises liability action against the property or business owner. If you or someone you know has experienced a trip and fall or some other incident resulting in injury on the property of another, you are encouraged to contact an experienced, local Nashville attorney to help you understand your rights.

In a recent premises liability case, the plaintiff was injured in a commercial parking lot after tripping over a steel post that was protruding just above the surface. The defendant and owner of the lot had not made any repairs to the property since purchasing it in 2007. Plaintiff, who worked in an office situated on the commercial property, crossed the parking lot to meet her cousin who was parked there. After speaking to one another for a few moments, plaintiff stepped back from the vehicle and tripped over the area where the steel post was protruding from the surface.

Plaintiff alleged that she injured her Achilles tendon after her heel got caught on the metal post. There seems to be no dispute that the steel post protrudes ¾” from the surface of the lot, that they are filled with concrete, and that cars are able to drive over them without harm. Plaintiff sued defendant for negligence for allowing an unsafe and dangerous condition to exist on the property and/or for failure to repair or warn about, the dangerous condition.

In response, defendant denied liability and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the condition of the lot was “open and obvious,” thereby eliminating his duty to warn visitors of the metal post, and that plaintiff was at fault for her own injuries. The trial court granted the motion, finding (1) that the area complained of was a “minor aberration” in the parking lot; (2) plaintiff admits to walking either directly over or just around the area; and (3) that the area was visible from a distance and easy to see. For these reasons, the court concluded that the area where plaintiff fell was open and obvious — so defendant owed her no duty to warn of the defect, and that she was not paying attention to where she was walking. Because of this, the court reasoned, plaintiff cannot be less than 50% at fault.

The court of appeals affirmed, pointing out that traditionally, in Tennessee, liability has not been imposed in premises liability cases for injuries that arise out of dangerous or defective conditions that are open and obvious. The court noted that the area where the steel post was protruding was distinguishable from the rest of the lot by color, it was much lighter than the surrounding asphalt. Further, the court concluded that a plaintiff in a premises liability case has a duty to see what is in plain sight. She was familiar with the parking lot, the area of concern was considered a “minor aberration”, it was easy to see, and she was not looking where she was going while stepping backwards before falling.

Because the defects were minor, the foreseeability and gravity of harm do not support a finding of liability. The court held that plaintiff failed to establish that the parking lot owner owed her a duty.

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