Tennessee Court of Appeals Partially Reverses Summary Judgment to Defendant in Slip and Fall Case

Negligence can arise in many different contexts – automobile accidents, medical malpractice, and even situations in which someone slips and falls on business premises. Slip and fall (or “premises liability” cases) are often hotly disputed, as the landowner typically seeks to avoid liability for the accident by casting blame on the injured party. However, some east Tennessee premises liability cases are successful, resulting in an award of monetary compensation to the plaintiff, so it is important to talk to a lawyer if you think you may have a claim.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a visitor who reportedly slipped and fell in an icy parking lot at the defendant hospital. The plaintiff had been at the hospital for some 12 hours on the day of her fall (for the birth of a grandchild); at the time of her arrival, the parking lot appeared wet but did not contain snow or ice. As the plaintiff returned her car that evening, she walked between two parked vehicles, slipping on a patch of ice that had apparently refrozen during the evening hours and fracturing her patella.

According to the plaintiff’s allegations in her complaint against the defendant, the defendant was negligent because it failed to remedy the dangerous condition created by accumulated ice in its parking lot, insomuch as it did not take affirmative steps to prevent melted snow from refreezing prior to the time of the plaintiff’s fall. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which the circuit court granted. The plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville affirmed in part and reversed in part. According to the appellate court, a premises owner’s duty with regard to natural accumulations of snow and ice is to exercise reasonable care to protect those who are on the legally on the property from unreasonable risks of harm. As with other duties applicable in a premises liability action, this may include either removing or repairing potentially dangerous conditions or helping visitors avoid injury by warning them of conditions that cannot, as a practical matter, be removed or repaired.

While premises owners do not have a duty to keep their premises free of natural accumulations of snow and ice at all times, a duty can arise when the owner has actual or constructive notice that a dangerous condition exists due to the accumulation of snow or ice. Typically, this duty arises within a reasonable time after the dangerous condition has formed or accumulated. Here, the patch of ice that caused the plaintiff’s fall was a product of refreezing in the early evening hours, not the original accumulation of snow (which had been cleared by the defendant).

Although the defendant did not the plaintiff a duty to prevent melted snow and ice from refreezing and forming ice on the patient parking lot, the defendant did have a duty to take reasonable steps to remove the ice after it accumulated during the afternoon and evening hours of the day in question. Because genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether the defendant breached this duty, the court of appeals found that summary judgment was inappropriate on this part of the plaintiff’s claim.

Hire a Helpful East Tennessee Injury Attorney

So-called “slip and fall” accidents can result in serious personal injuries, staggering medical bills, and weeks or even months of lost wages for the accident victim. If you have been hurt because of a business or landowner’s failure to properly maintain their premises, you should talk to a lawyer about filing a negligence claim. Because Tennessee has such a short statute of limitations for personal injury actions, it is important that you consult an attorney as soon as possible if you believe that you may have a claim against a negligent landowner or business operator. For a free consultation regarding your case, please contact east Tennessee premises liability attorney Mark Hartsoe at the Hartsoe Law Firm by calling 865-524-5657 and asking for an appointment.

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