Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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In 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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file0001771584086 morguefile gracey.jpgIn Goumas v. Mayse, a 21-year-old man was visiting the home of his fiancée’s parents for an extended period of time. During his visit, the man allegedly tripped and fell over a rock while assisting the property owners with some yard work. As a result of his purported slip and fall, the man sustained two broken bones in his right arm. About one year after he was injured, the man filed a premises liability case against the property owners. In his complaint, the man alleged the owners were aware of an unreasonably dangerous condition and failed to correct it or warn him of the hazard. In response, the property owners filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging they owed the man no legal duty.

According to evidence offered to the trial court, the man was aware of the location of the rock because he performed similar yard work on numerous previous extended visits to the property. In addition, the man offered no evidence to support his claim that the property owners knew or should have known the rock posed a danger or that it existed in any way. The trial court stated there was no proof the man’s injury was foreseeable and granted the property owners’ motion for summary judgment. The man then appealed his case to the Knoxville court.

In Tennessee, a property owner has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care and remove hazards or warn visitors and invitees about dangerous conditions the owner is or should be aware of. A property owner is also required to exercise reasonable diligence regarding the existence of a potentially hazardous condition. This duty does not extend to a dangerous condition the owner was unaware of or could not reasonably have discovered.
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file2871310296124 morguefile wallyir.jpgThe Knoxville, Tennessee Court of Appeals has stated that the facts of a disputed premises liability case should be considered by a jury. In Wilson v. TMBC, LLC, a man returned his fishing boat to the company he purchased it from for repairs. Following the repair, he purportedly climbed onto his boat at the request of one of the store’s technicians to inspect the installation of a new part. While exiting the vessel, the man was apparently injured when he tripped and fell out of the fishing boat. According to the man, he stumbled over a piece of the boat that was discarded by a boat company employee during the repair. After the incident, the man filed a premises liability lawsuit against the business.

At trial, the boat company asked the district court to issue a directed verdict in its favor. According to the business, the man failed to prove the company breached a duty to him, and the man was at least 50 percent responsible for his injuries. In general, a directed verdict is only ordered after a court determines that no reasonable jury could return any other verdict. The court agreed with the business and entered a directed verdict in favor of the boat company. In response, the man filed an appeal with the Knoxville court.

The Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s decision to issue a directed verdict in favor of the boat company. According to the appellate court, the injured man submitted sufficient evidence to support a jury’s finding that the boat company’s worker negligently caused his injury. Additionally, the Knoxville court stated the percentage of fault attributable to the man was a question of fact for jurors to decide. Since the trial court should not have issued a directed verdict in favor of the boat company based upon the facts of the case, the Court of Appeals vacated the lower court’s decision and remanded the case for a new trial.
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BuckeyeLake_12 morguefile click.jpgThe Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville has affirmed a summary judgment verdict issued in favor of two property owners in a premises liability lawsuit. In Smith v. Stanley, a woman sued the owners of a cabin after she purportedly suffered injuries when she fell down a set of stairs. According to the complaint, the Knoxville woman visited the cabin for the first time at night with the property owners’ adult children. As the plaintiff entered the cabin, she reportedly neglected to turn on a light switch located near the front door. Instead of asking her companions where the light switch was, she apparently walked into a room in the dark and tripped down a flight of stairs. As a result of her fall, the woman allegedly lost consciousness and suffered numerous injuries.

After the incident, the woman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the owners of the cabin. In order to recover for a premises liability claim in Tennessee, a plaintiff must prove that the property owner had a duty to protect the plaintiff, the owner breached that duty, and the breach resulted in an injury to the plaintiff. Additionally, a premises liability plaintiff must demonstrate that the dangerous condition which resulted in his or her injury was caused or created by the owner, or the owner had actual or constructive notice that the unsafe condition existed.

In response to the woman’s complaint, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. When a party to a lawsuit files a motion for summary judgment, the party is asking the court to rule that no genuine issue of material fact that would warrant a trial exists and any undisputed facts require judgment to be entered in his or her favor. According to the defendants, they did not owe the woman a duty because her actions were not reasonably foreseeable.
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streetlamp.jpgIn a recent Knoxville, Tennessee case, the appellate court reversed a trial court’s summary judgment dismissing a premises liability case. The court based its decision upon the possibility of a property owner’s actual or constructive notice of poor lighting. Summary judgment is a procedural device that a party involved in a case may use to dismiss claims or issues. If a court rules in favor of the party requesting a dismissal, the other party is not allowed to present the issue or claim to the the judge or jury.

Winning a motion for dismissal can save our clients considerable time and money by not having to defend claims that are not disputable. However, losing the motion, could mean our client loses their case. At Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., we take every level and stage of a trial seriously, and we are committed to providing compassionate and aggressive representation in our premises liability cases in order get our clients the compensation they deserve.

A party moving for a summary judgment must prove that there are no issues of material fact. An issue of material fact is what a judge or jury decides on. Basically, by bringing a motion to dismiss, the party is arguing that there is no dispute, and it would be a waste of time and money for a judge or jury to weigh the evidence.
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