Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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After a lawsuit is filed, the parties usually engage in a period of discovery. Sometimes, this involves the defendant asking that an injured person undergo a medical examination by a doctor retained by – and paid by – the defense. Often, this doctor will have an opinion that conflicts with that of the plaintiff’s treating physician (or the plaintiff’s retained expert).

If the parties cannot agree on the details of when, where, and under which conditions the examination will take place, the trial court has broad discretion to enter an order resolving the issue.

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stairs-shadow-1-1621502The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently vacated a trial court’s directed verdict for defendants in a premises liability action, concluding there existed genuine issues of material fact as to whether the defendant homeowners were negligent.

The plaintiff was touring a rental house in Chattanooga owned by the defendants when she tripped on a step between two rooms. She brought a premises liability action in January 2012, alleging that the step was an unreasonably dangerous and defective condition that caused her fall and resulting injuries.

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file000921513512 morguefile Melodi2In Coggins v. Holston Valley Medical Center, a woman and her spouse visited a patient in a Tennessee hospital. While at the medical facility, the woman apparently tripped over a feeding tube that was purportedly placed near the patient’s bed in a negligent fashion. As a result, the woman fell and sustained serious injuries. Later, the injured woman served the hospital with notice that she intended to file a lawsuit against the facility before ultimately filing her complaint.

In response to the woman’s case, the hospital filed a motion for summary judgment. In general, such a motion asks a court to rule that there are no material facts in dispute, and one party to a lawsuit is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. After reviewing the hospital’s motion, the trial court ruled that the woman’s claim constituted a premises liability action instead of a health care liability case. The trial court also found that the woman was not entitled to utilize the pre-suit notice provisions enumerated in Section 29-26-121 of the Tennessee Code to extend the statute of limitations. As a result, the lower court found that the woman’s case was not filed within the applicable one-year statute of limitations. After ruling the lawsuit was time-barred, the trial court granted the hospital’s motion for summary judgment.

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file000135192763 morguefile sideshowmomIn Beverly v. Hardee’s Food Systems, LLC, a couple went to a Tennessee fast food restaurant for breakfast. Immediately after entering the establishment, the husband slipped and fell in a puddle that was on the floor. As a result, the man sustained an injury to his right ankle. The entire incident was caught on tape by restaurant security cameras.

The mother of the child who caused the puddle apparently exited the restaurant with her children at about the same time the injured man entered the building. Although she was aware of the spill, the woman apparently failed to notify restaurant workers about the dangerous condition. While several patrons allegedly witnessed the child cause the puddle, no one notified the store workers about the slippery substance on the floor. Video evidence showed that the child caused the puddle about three minutes before the man fell. Although the video established that no employees were in the area prior to the man’s fall, it showed that the customer service counter was less than 20 feet away from the location of the puddle.

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Parking signIn Walden v. Central Parking System of Tennessee, Inc., a woman parked her car in a parking garage that was located near a medical facility where she had scheduled an appointment. After she returned to the garage to retrieve her vehicle, the woman was apparently injured when she fell on the concrete floor. According to the woman, she tripped on an unmarked drop in an area of the floor that appeared to be level. As a result of her harm, the woman filed a negligence lawsuit against the owner of the garage and the medical facility in Knox County.

At trial, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. In general, such a motion is only appropriate when there are no material issues of fact in dispute, and one party to a lawsuit is entitled to judgment in his or her favor. When considering such a motion, a court must review all evidence in the light that is most favorable to the non-moving party.

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DSCN8654 morguefile pippalouIn Corley v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, a Tennessee woman injured her knee when she slipped on water that was spilled on the floor of an Antioch department store. As a result, the woman filed a premises liability and negligence lawsuit against the store in the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. Following trial, jurors issued a $525,000 verdict in favor of the woman and stated the department store was 90 percent responsible for her harm. In response to the jury verdict, the store filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law or new trial.

Before considering the department store’s motion, the Middle District of Tennessee stated a motion for judgment as a matter of law may only be granted in situations where “reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion.” The court stated there must be a lack of disputed facts and it must be clear that the moving party is entitled to judgment in his or her favor in order to prevail.   In addition, the federal court said a motion for a new trial is appropriate where jurors reached a “seriously erroneous result” that was against the weight of the evidence, excessive, or somehow unfair.

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cart07 morguefile citysafariThe Western District of Tennessee has found that a customer is entitled to pursue her personal injury claim against a grocery store at trial.  In Jackson v. Kroger Ltd. Partnership I, a woman and her mother visited a Tennessee grocery store. While shopping, the woman was apparently injured when she slipped and fell on a clear liquid that was on the floor. After the woman fell, a store security guard helped the woman get up off the floor. According to the injured shopper, the security guard told her that he asked another grocery store employee to clean up the spill prior to the incident. The customer later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the grocery store.

Prior to trial, the store claimed that it had no knowledge of the purported spill. In addition, the grocery store argued that the injured woman could not prove how long the liquid was on the floor before she fell or that any of the store’s workers knew the spill occurred. Because of this, the store filed a motion for summary judgment in the case. In general, a motion for summary judgment may only be granted in situations where there are no material facts in dispute and one party is clearly entitled to judgment in his or her favor based upon the law. A court that is considering such a motion must construe any evidence offered in favor of the non-moving party.

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file000612083420 morguefile alvimann.jpgIn Starnes v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, a woman alleged in federal court that she sustained personal injuries when a large bottle of shampoo fell on her head while shopping at a Tennessee department store. According to the woman, the bottle fell because an employee knocked it over while restocking merchandise located on the same shelf in the next aisle. In her complaint, the woman claimed that she suffered neck and shoulder pain, dizziness, nausea, and a variety of other injuries as a result of being struck by the falling bottle.

Before trial, both the woman and the department store filed a motion for a Daubert hearing. When a party to a lawsuit files a Daubert motion, he or she is asking the court to admit or exclude certain expert testimony and evidence. The idea behind this motion is to ensure that the expert testimony offered by each party is based on scientifically valid and widely accepted methodology. A Daubert motion is considered by a judge while outside the jury’s presence. In a federal proceeding, a Daubert hearing is evaluated using Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 702. Still, courts within the Sixth Circuit such as the Eastern District of Tennessee are not required to conduct a Daubert hearing.

After reviewing each party’s written motion, the Knoxville court stated neither party provided the court with a sufficient level of detail. Both parties apparently failed to describe specific testimony challenges or apply Rule 702 to the case. Despite this, the court said oral arguments and exhibits offered the court a sufficient record on which to make its Daubert determination. Next, the Eastern District of Tennessee ruled that testimony offered by two of the woman’s treating physicians should be allowed at trial. The federal court also held that the opinions of an expert witness hired by the department store to review the woman’s medical file were permitted, except for irrelevant testimony that relied on another patient’s medical records.
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file1211246147194 morguefile thegipper.jpgThe Eastern District of Tennessee, Knoxville Division has dismissed a woman’s personal injury lawsuit that was filed against the United States government. In Solomon v. United States, a woman and her family visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in order to go hiking. While walking down a hill, the woman apparently stepped in a hole that was obscured by leaves. She allegedly fell backwards, attempted to break her fall using her arms, and subsequently became injured. After she exhausted the administrative remedies available to her, the woman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the U.S. government in federal court. The government responded by filing a motion for summary judgment.

First, the Eastern District of Tennessee stated summary judgment is only proper in a federal lawsuit where no material facts are disputed, and one party is entitled to judgment in his or her favor based on the law. In addition, the court stated the party who files a motion for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no factual disputes exist, and all inferences must be made in favor of the non-moving party. If such a motion is granted, the moving party wins the case without proceeding to a trial.

According to the government, it was entitled to summary judgment under Sections 70-7-102 and 70-7-104 of the Tennessee Recreational Use Statutes, since the woman failed to demonstrate it caused her injuries by committing gross negligence. The woman countered that the U.S. was liable for her harm because it failed to properly maintain the trail she fell on or warn her about the risk for injury. Under Tennessee law, a landowner may not be held liable for injuries sustained by a visitor to a property if the visitor is engaged in recreational activities, such as hiking, except where the property owner committed gross negligence or demonstrated a willful disregard for the safety of visitors. The code also states a property owner is not required to warn recreational visitors regarding any hazards.
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800px-Walmart_at_5152_Canoga_Park must attribute wikimedia commons.jpgThe Eastern District of Tennessee has refused to amend a verdict that was rendered against a plaintiff in a slip-and-fall case. In Griffin v. Wal-Mart Stores East. LP, a 76-year-old woman was allegedly injured when she fell inside a department store located in Eastern Tennessee. Following her injury, the woman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store. Although the area where the woman fell was apparently dry, an employee who was tasked with cleaning up a previous spill in the area testified at trial that the floor was slippery.

After the trial court ruled in favor of the department store because the business lacked sufficient notice of the allegedly hazardous condition, the injured woman filed a motion to alter or amend the verdict under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In general, such a motion may only be granted if the court made a clear legal error, if new evidence was discovered, if the law changed, or in order to prevent a “manifest injustice” from occurring. According to the injured woman, the court’s holding was erroneous because the department store had actual or constructive notice of the supposedly dangerous condition in the store. The Eastern District of Tennessee stated that surveillance video of the area where the woman fell demonstrated no circumstantial or other evidence the department store was aware of the purportedly slippery floor.

The federal court also dismissed the elderly woman’s claim that the department store had constructive notice of the alleged slip-and-fall hazard because conflicting evidence was presented at trial. The court stated the woman failed to offer evidence regarding the source of the slippery surface despite that a store worker testified the floor she fell on was slick. The federal court added that the video surveillance did not show a spill occurred prior to the elderly woman’s fall. Since the slippery film on the floor was apparently invisible, and the video footage offered at trial showed other shoppers walking over the same area without incident, the Eastern District of Tennessee held that the department store did not have constructive notice of the supposedly hazardous condition that caused the plaintiff’s fall.
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