Slip and Fall Cases – Constructive Notice

In Blair v. West Towne Mall, 130 S.W.3d 761 (Tenn. 2004), the Tennessee Supreme Court held that plaintiff may prove that a premises owner had constructive notice of the presence of a dangerous condition by showing a pattern of conduct, a recurring incident, or a general or continuing condition indicating the dangerous condition’s existence. This decision is an express adoption of what used to be called the “method of operation theory” of proving constructive notice. The owner, a third person, or nature may cause the condition. You may read the text of the opinion by clicking here.

I do not like phrase “method of operation theory;” it sounds as if the defendant must knowingingly engage in practices that create a risk of harm. That is simply not correct.

The better label is the “reoccurring risk of injury theory.” In other words, plaintiff must demonstrate that defendant, a third person or nature regularly created some condition that posed a risk of injury to third persons. For instance, a plaintiff who fell in a grocery store could met her burden of proving notice by proving that she slipped on a liquid substance that being given away for test consumption as a store promotion several isles away. She could prove actual notice of the substance on the floor, true constructive notice, or “risk of reoccurring injury” notice; i.e. that when the store had such give aways it routinely had spills nearby with such frequency that constructive notice should be found by the factfinder.

Slip and fall cases are difficult. The Court’s adoption of this theory increases the likelihood that a plaintiff can survive summary judgment but does not mean that every slip and fall case is a winner. Counsel must still evaluate these cases carefully to determine whether they can be won.