Knoxville Court Reverses Premises Liability Dismissal Because Inadequate Lighting Could Be Actual Or Constructive Notice — Christian v. Ayers

In 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.

Facts Of The Case — Christian v. Ayers

In the Knoxville case, Christian v. Ayers, the plaintiff claimed inadequate lighting in a parking lot caused her to break her leg in four places. On the day of the incident, the plaintiff went to a meeting held in a lodge on the owner’s property. When the plaintiff went into the lodge, the natural light allowed the plaintiff to see the parking lot. After the meeting the sun had gone down, and the parking lot was no longer visible. The plaintiff had to use her key fob to locate her car in the dark. When walking to her car, the plaintiff stepped into a hole or a drop-off and fractured her leg in four places, which caused medical expenses in excess of fifty thousand dollars.

The next day it was determined that the parking lot had been dark because the lot lights had burned out. The Plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against the owner of the lodge for failing in his duty of care to provide adequate lighting.

The property owner brought a motion to dismiss arguing that the owner did not have actual or constructive “notice” of the lights being burned out, to which the trial judge dismissed the case.

Negligence Claim For Premises Liability

In a premises liability claim, like other negligence claims, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the property owner had a duty to protect the plaintiff, (2) the conduct by the owner fell below the standard of care amounting to a breach of that duty, (3) the plaintiff had been injured, (4) the breach of the duty actually caused the injury, and (4) the breach of duty proximately caused the injury.

Beyond the standard negligence elements, in a premises liability claim, the plaintiff must also prove that (1) the dangerous condition was caused or created by the owner, or (2) if the condition was created by someone or something else, the owner had actual or constructive notice that the condition existed.

Constructive notice, can be proven by showing that a property owner (1) created the condition; (2) the condition existed for a period of time that an owner exercising reasonable care would have noticed; or (3) the owner’s pattern of conduct, a recurring incident, or a general continuing condition caused the hazardous condition.

The Court’s Decision — Christian v. Ayers

Tennessee court precedent holds that an owner has a duty to provide adequate lighting. See Heggs v. Wilson Inn Nashville-Elm Hill, Inc.

Actual Knowledge

During discovery, it was revealed that an owner’s representative at the lodge phoned the owner prior to the plaintiff’s injury asking how to turn the parking lot lights on. The representative could not recall what prompted the call. The appellate court held that there was an issue of material fact in that a jury could dispute whether or not the owner’s representative had actual knowledge of the lights not working.

Constructive Knowledge

The court noted that another issue of material fact present in this matter is whether the owner could or should have become aware of the dangerous condition through the exercise of reasonable care. The court held that a jury could dispute the length of time the lights had been out and whether the owner should have put into place processes or procedures to detect the failure in the lights.

Based upon a finding of material fact concerning actual and constructive notice, the Knoxville appellate court reversed the dismissal.

What You Should Know

A property owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries to individuals that are legally on their property. If you have been injured because a property owner has breached this duty, you have a right to have your case heard by a judge or jury. A property owner may try to dismiss your claim, and it is recommended that you have an experienced local premises liability attorney to protect your claim so that you can get the compensation you deserve.

If you have been injured because of premises liability injury, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657 or through our contact page. There is always someone available to talk to you about your case.

Additional Resources:
Summary Judgment, 2014, The People’s Law Dictionary

Why Juries Work Best, Feb 21, 2010. Mendelle, Paul The Guardian.

Related Blog Posts:
Slip and Fall Cases Under Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act — Traylor v. Shelby County Board of Education, Mar. 5, 2014, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

Holidays a Dangerous time for Fall Accidents in Tennessee, Nov. 4, 2012, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

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