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Knoxville Court Examines Tennessee’s Recreational Defense to Premises Liability: Solomon v. United States

The 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.

Neither party disputed that the injured woman was visiting the national park to engage in an activity that was the subject of the Tennessee Recreational Use Statutes. In addition, testimony offered by a National Park Service Maintenance Supervisor stated the trail on which the woman fell was a social trail rather than an official park trail. This means it was established by repeated use and was not maintained by the government. He also said such trails are normally found in undeveloped areas that are likely to be covered by leaves depending on the season. Since the court found that the woman failed to demonstrate the government committed gross negligence when it neglected to warn her about a depression in an unofficial, remote park trail, the Eastern District of Tennessee held that the U.S. did not owe her a duty and granted the government’s motion for summary judgment.

If you were the victim of a personal injury, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Solomon v. United States, Dist. Court, ED Tennessee 2013

Related Blog Posts:

Jury’s Comparative Fault Verdict Upheld in Eastern Tennessee Auto Collision Case: Miller v. Moretz, July 16, 2014, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

Tennessee Federal Court Discusses Elements of Premises Liability Claim: Griffin v. Wal-Mart Stores East. LP, July 9, 2014, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

 

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