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Tennessee Court of Appeals Affirms $850,000 Verdict Against Grocery Store in Shopper’s Negligence Suit

When most people think about a Knoxville “slip and fall” case involving a grocery store, the stereotypical image that comes to mind is probably that of shopper slipping on a banana peel and landing squarely on his or her backside, embarrassed but no worse for the wear. The idea is almost comical.

The reality of such accidents, however, is very different. A fall-down accident in a grocery store, restaurant, or other business can leave a shopper with serious injuries which may require extensive medical treatment.

When such an accident occurs as a result of the negligence of the business owner, the injured individual has a right to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for his or her medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. It should be noted that the burden of proof in such a case rests on the plaintiff, who must be able to prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case arising in the Circuit Court for Shelby County, the plaintiff was a woman who was shopping at the defendant grocery store when her cart tipped over due to a missing wheel and caused her to fall. The plaintiff suffered numerous injuries as a result of the accident, including a fracture that required surgical repair; her medical expenses were approximately $90,000. She filed suit against the defendant, seeking compensation for her injuries under the legal theories of both ordinary negligence and premises liability. The defendant answered that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by a non-party that maintained and serviced the defendant’s shopping carts. The plaintiff was granted leave to add the third-party to her complaint, but, ultimately, this claim was dismissed by the trial court on summary judgment.

The case proceeded to a jury trial on the plaintiff’s negligence claim (she opted to proceed only on this theory, having voluntarily dismissed her premises liability claim). The jury found that the defendant was 100% at fault in the accident and awarded damages to the plaintiff in the amount of $850,000. The defendant appealed, arguing that the third-party defendant should not have been dismissed on summary judgment, that the defendant should have been granted a directed verdict, and/or that the trial court should have either granted a new trial or issued a remittitur of the damages award.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson affirmed the lower court’s decision, holding that the grocery store had not met its burden to show reversible error. Although the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s case sounded in premises liability rather than simple negligence and that she had failed to meet the burden of proof for a premises liability action, the appellate court opined that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence presented from which a reasonable juror could have inferred both ordinary negligence by the defendant and the type of actual and/or constructive notice of a dangerous condition on its property required to survive a motion for summary judgment or a directed verdict on a traditional premises liability claim.

With regard to the defendant’s argument that the verdict was excessive, the appellate court noted that the plaintiff was a senior citizen and that one of her most significant injuries was her loss of independence following the accident. According the court, such a loss could not be quantified. Because the defendant was unable to meet its burden of showing that there was no material evidence to support the jury’s verdict, the court of appeals agreed that denial of its motion for a remittitur or new trial was appropriate.

Call a Premises Liability Injury Attorney

If you or your spouse or child has been hurt on someone else’s premises, you may have a claim for money damages if the premises owner’s negligence caused or contributed to your accident. To speak to a seasoned premises liability and grocery store slip and fall attorney, call the Hartsoe Law Firm at 865-524-5657. We are working during the COVID-19 pandemic and are here to respond to¬† your calls, so please do not delay seeking legal advice about your case, as claims not filed in a timely fashion will be dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.

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