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.