After this Case, the Wedding is Going to be Pretty Awkward

This is a slip and fall case. The plaintiff was engaged to the defendants’ daughter.   On multiple occasions, the defendants had hosted the plaintiff at their lake home for extended visits. In the summer of 2010, the plaintiff was again the invited guest of the defendants. Shortly before his visit, the power company had cut down numerous trees and bushes on the property but failed to remove them. In an effort to make himself useful, the plaintiff began helping his fiance’s mother remove the brush and trees. While performing the work, the plaintiff slipped on a large rock on the ground and fell and broke his arm in two places. The following facts were not in dispute:

·        The plaintiff had worked in that area for two or three days before the fall.

·        The accident occurred in the daylight.

·        The rock that caused his fall was approximately 12 inches in size and it stuck up from the ground a couple of inches.

·        The plaintiff had noticed the rock before the fall. In fact, he had been stepping and walking on it the entire time he had been working.

·        The plaintiff simply took an “unlucky misstep” when he fell.

·        There was nothing hidden or concealed about the rock.

Based on these undisputed facts, the trial court granted summary judgment and this appeal followed. Judge Susano, writing for the Court of Appeals, started with the proposition that the old “open and obvious” doctrine had been replaced with the Restatement approach which required courts to balance foreseeability with gravity of harm and the availability of alternative conduct which would have prevented the harm.   Even with this more forgiving approach, the Court of Appeals nonetheless affirmed the grant of summary judgment while reminding us all of some premise liability black letter law:

·        “Liability in premises liability cases stems from superior knowledge of the premises.”

·        “An individual has a duty to take reasonable care for his or her own safety.”

·        “Negligence is not to be presumed by the mere happening of an injury or accident.”

·        “A landowner is not an insurer of his premises as it relates to invitees.”

This is openly and obviously the right result given these facts. The only remaining question is whether the plaintiff remains engaged to the defendants’ daughter.

Petros Goumas v. Jimmy Mayse, No. 2013-01555-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 29, 2014).