Nursing Home Doorway’s Successful Inspections, Absence of Dangerous History Help Facility Avoid Liability for Visitor’s Injury

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.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld that judgment. In cases like Christian’s, a premises owner seeking summary judgment must first show that the doors “did not constitute a dangerous condition and did not pose a foreseeable risk of harm.” The nursing home established this element by introducing testimony from several employees, who had worked for the nursing home from six to 12 years, and each of whom knew of no other instances of a person suffering injury as a result of the doors in question. The doors were also inspected weekly and compliant with the applicable Davidson County Health Department ordinances.

This evidence then placed the burden on Christian to show the court something that would indicate that a legitimate factual dispute existed regarding the doors’ safety. The woman pointed to the absence of windows in the doors and the presence of sign warning users to exercise caution when opening the doors. This was not enough, the court decided. The law requires an injured person to show a probability of injury in order to demonstrate the existence of a dangerous condition. Christian’s evidence only showed a possibility, not likelihood, of injury, and that was insufficient.

Visitors to a facility open to the public have a right to expect the property owner to maintain that facility in a way that leaves it free from dangerous conditions and unreasonable risks of harm. Successfully pursuing a court action to recover for your damages involves more than just having suffered harm; it also requires understanding what information you must present to the court, and then obtaining that information. For knowledgeable and zealous representation as you pursue your injury claim, reach out to the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PSC.

Reach us online or call (615) 975-7882.

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Tennessee Recreational Activity Exception Spares Landowner from Liability in Motorcycle Crash, Nashville Trial Lawyer Blog, Feb. 24, 2014
Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Damages Award Against Ambulance Service, Nashville Trial Lawyer Blog, April 26, 2013