Summary Judgment for Homeowners in Caterer’s Slip and Fall Lawsuit Was Wrong, Says Tennessee Appeals Court

When someone is hurt on another person’s property, the injured person may file a lawsuit seeking monetary compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages. The burden of proof is always on the plaintiff in an east Tennessee slip and fall case, however, and being successful at trial can be a very challenging task.

A seasoned personal injury attorney can help the injured person navigate the difficulties and potential pitfalls of a premises liability case seeking compensation for injuries suffered in a fall or other accident on a landowner or business’ property.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was a woman who allegedly fell as she was leaving the defendant homeowners’ residence following her work as a caterer’s helper at the home. According to the plaintiff, it was dark when she left the homeowners’ kitchen through a side door, and she fell through a break in the railing on a staircase, causing her to land on her face on the concrete below. Her negligence action against the homeowners further alleged that there were no house lights on at the time of her fall and that the motion lights on the steps were not operating. The trial court granted summary judgment to the homeowners, holding that they did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care. The plaintiff appealed.

Holding of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee

The appellate court reversed, opining that there were material, disputed facts remaining to be resolved in the case and that thus the trial court’s summary judgment to the homeowners had been improper. In so holding, the appeals court noted an apparent inconsistency in the homeowners’ defense of the case. In their answer, the defendants had denied that the area where the plaintiff fell was dark, but, in their responses to the plaintiff’s request for admissions, they had stated that the outside lights were “all on” for the party. In their motion for summary judgment and supporting documents, however, the homeowners had averred that, since the outside stairs were dark and the lights were turned off, the accident was the plaintiff’s fault because she had decided to “traverse the stairs in complete darkness.” Since the operability and effectiveness of the lighting outside the defendants’ home was relevant to the resolution of the plaintiff’s complaint, and since the facts concerning the lighting were in dispute, summary judgment was not appropriate. The appellate court also pointed out that the allegedly broken railing at the defendants’ home may also have been a factor in the plaintiff’s fall, yet the trial court had not addressed the railing in its analysis.

Request a Free Consultation with a Knoxville Slip and Fall Lawyer

If you have been hurt on someone else’s property, you could be entitled to substantial money damages. While such cases can be difficult, and the landowner almost always tries to blame the accident on the victim, getting started on the case early by consulting an experienced Knoxville premises liability lawyer can help increase the chance that the litigation will be successful. In fall-down cases, there is much evidence to be gathered, so it is important to retain counsel sooner rather than later, before the evidence becomes subject to spoliation or disappears altogether. The Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., handles premises liability and slip and fall cases throughout the greater Knoxville area. Call us at 865-524-5657 for a free consultation.

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