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Tennessee Federal Court Discusses Elements of Premises Liability Claim: Griffin v. Wal-Mart Stores East. LP

The Eastern District of Tennessee has refused to amend a verdict that was rendered against a plaintiff in a slip-and-fall case. In Griffin v. Wal-Mart Stores East. LP, a 76-year-old woman was allegedly injured when she fell inside a department store located in Eastern Tennessee. Following her injury, the woman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store. Although the area where the woman fell was apparently dry, an employee who was tasked with cleaning up a previous spill in the area testified at trial that the floor was slippery.

After the trial court ruled in favor of the department store because the business lacked sufficient notice of the allegedly hazardous condition, the injured woman filed a motion to alter or amend the verdict under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In general, such a motion may only be granted if the court made a clear legal error, if new evidence was discovered, if the law changed, or in order to prevent a “manifest injustice” from occurring. According to the injured woman, the court’s holding was erroneous because the department store had actual or constructive notice of the supposedly dangerous condition in the store. The Eastern District of Tennessee stated that surveillance video of the area where the woman fell demonstrated no circumstantial or other evidence the department store was aware of the purportedly slippery floor.

The federal court also dismissed the elderly woman’s claim that the department store had constructive notice of the alleged slip-and-fall hazard because conflicting evidence was presented at trial. The court stated the woman failed to offer evidence regarding the source of the slippery surface despite that a store worker testified the floor she fell on was slick. The federal court added that the video surveillance did not show a spill occurred prior to the elderly woman’s fall. Since the slippery film on the floor was apparently invisible, and the video footage offered at trial showed other shoppers walking over the same area without incident, the Eastern District of Tennessee held that the department store did not have constructive notice of the supposedly hazardous condition that caused the plaintiff’s fall.

In order to demonstrate that a property owner had constructive notice regarding a dangerous condition, a plaintiff must prove there was “a pattern of conduct, a recurring incident, or a general or continuing condition indicating the dangerous condition’s existence.” Since the injured woman failed to demonstrate this was the case, the court ruled against the plaintiff and denied her motion.

A property owner in Tennessee has a duty to exercise reasonable care and remove any known dangers or warn visitors and invitees about a hazardous condition the owner is or should be aware of. An owner is also compelled by the law to exercise diligence with regard to the existence of a potentially dangerous condition. Still, this duty does not extend to a hazardous condition the property owner did not know about or could not reasonably have discovered.

If you were hurt because a property owner chose not to exercise reasonable care, you may be eligible to recover compensation for your injuries. The experienced lawyers at the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. may be able to help. To discuss your case with a knowledgeable attorney, please call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657 or contact us through our website today.

Additional Resources:

Griffin v. Wal-Mart Stores East. LP, Dist. Court, ED Tennessee 2014

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