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Trial Court Erred in Granting Summary Judgment in Premises Liability Case Involving Extension Cord, Says Tennessee Court of Appeals

An east Tennessee premises liability case can arise from many different types of dangerous conditions – a slippery floor, a broken staircase, etc. In such cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proving liability.

This means that the plaintiff must provide evidence that shows that the defendant either knew of, or should have known of, the dangerous condition but did not take reasonable steps to remedy the situation.

Facts of the Case

In a recent premises liability case arising in Tipton County, the plaintiff was a construction worker who fell from scaffolding while working in a factory owned by the defendant. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was working for a sub-contractor of a company that had been hired to renovate the defendant’s warehouse. The plaintiff was using an electric screw gun powered by a 100 foot extension cord. As the plaintiff was working with the screw gun, the defendant’s employees continued to move products around the warehouse using a forklift. The forklift driver apparently did not see the plaintiff or the extension cord and drove the forklift in such a manner that it became entangled with the cord. The plaintiff fell approximately 10 feet, causing him serious injuries.

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant, alleging that it had failed to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition and/or warn the plaintiff on the dangerous premises under its care. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendant, holding that the defendant had no duty to warn the plaintiff of the allegedly dangerous condition that the plaintiff himself had created and controlled. The plaintiff appealed.

Resolution of the Issues

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Jackson reversed and remanded, holding that there were material factual disputes that precluded the granting of summary judgment. Under Tennessee law, a party is only entitled to summary judgment (also known as “judgment as a matter of law”) if the pleadings and other documents on file show that there is no genuine issue of material fact sufficient for the case to proceed to a jury trial. This requires more than a conclusory statement by the party moving for summary judgment.

In a negligence action, the plaintiff must establish five elements in order for his or her case to proceed to a trial on the merits: duty of care, breach of duty, injury or loss, cause in fact, and proximate or legal cause. In a premises liability case, a person or company that is in control of real property has a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury to persons lawfully on the premises. In cases in which an invitee such as the plaintiff herein is performing work as an independent contractor, the premises owner has a duty to provide a reasonably safe place for the plaintiff to work.

Although the defendant argued that the plaintiff created the dangerous condition that led to his injury, the court noted that the defendant was also well aware of both the extension cord and the plaintiff’s position on the scaffolding. Previous to the incident in which the plaintiff was harmed, the defendant’s employees had asked the plaintiff to move the cord temporarily so that they could move equipment through a doorway. The accident allegedly happened when another of the defendant’s employees drove a forklift backwards through the doorway at a high rate of speed without stopping. Under these circumstances, summary judgment for the defendant was improper.

Need Legal Advise from a Tennessee Injury Attorney

If you have been hurt on someone else’s land or business premises, Knoxville premises liability attorney Mark Hartsoe at the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., will be glad to talk to you about your legal rights. For a free consultation, call 865-524-5657. Please do not delay in seeking legal counsel about your situation, as claims not filed within the statute of limitations are usually dismissed on procedural grounds.

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