In K.G.R. v. Union City School District, No. W2016-01056-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2016), the Court of Appeals overturned a denial of summary judgment, determining that the incident that occurred was not foreseeable and that defendant had no duty to protect the minor plaintiff from a sexual assault.

Plaintiff was a sixth grade student enrolled in the special education program at defendant school. Near the end of the school year in 2012, a student told the special education teacher that plaintiff and another boy were in a bathroom stall together. The teacher went to the bathroom, where she found the other student leaving the bathroom, and eventually took both boys to the principal’s office. During an interview of plaintiff, he alleged that the other student had sexually assaulted him in the bathroom.

Plaintiff’s parents brought this negligence action, alleging that the school had a duty to protect plaintiff. The school filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that “the acts against [plaintiff] were not foreseeable.” Three weeks before the incident, plaintiff’s mother wrote a letter to the school principal regarding her concerns that plaintiff was being bullied, specifically naming two students as the perpetrators (neither of which was the student involved in the assault), and stating that plaintiff “was being punched by these students.” According to the mother’s testimony, “she wrote the letter because other students were stealing [plaintiff’s] pencils, picking on him, and calling him names.”

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Not every fall results in a successful premises liability case, as the plaintiffs in a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case were reminded.

In Woodgett v. Vaughan, No. M2016-00250-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2016), plaintiff filed suit after falling while she was viewing defendants’ home, which was listed for sale. Plaintiff’s husband was a realtor, so he contacted the listing agent about viewing defendants’ home. Defendants had already moved out and removed all of their belongings, so plaintiff and her husband were allowed to view the home on their own. In the upstairs bonus room there was a door that led to the attic access. The landing that accessed the attic was raised, so defendants had hired someone to build a wooden box to use as a step to get to the landing. The step was made with two-by-twelves, measured 9.5 inches high, 39 inches wide and 10.75 inches deep, and was covered with carpet. The step could be moved out of the way and was not affixed to the landing, as it was sometimes moved to accommodate furniture passing through the area. Defendants had “used the step for twenty years without incident.” According to plaintiff, when she used the step while viewing the home, it “gave way” and made her fall.

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In Holmes v. Christ Community Health Services, Inc., No. W2016-00207-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2016), the Court of Appeals overturned the exclusion of expert testimony in an HCLA case.

In 2004, plaintiff fell and hurt her right shoulder, and she did not seek treatment until five days after her fall. When she visited defendant doctor, he examined her shoulder and diagnosed her with bursitis, never ordering an x-ray or other scan. Defendant doctor recommended an exercise program to plaintiff. Plaintiff’s pain continued to worsen, and she saw a different doctor a month later. This doctor took an x-ray of her shoulder and referred her to an orthopedic surgeon, who ordered a CT scan. The scan showed that plaintiff had a fracture dislocation. She was then sent to Dr. Weiss, a surgeon specializing in shoulder injuries, who performed open reduction surgery on plaintiff. During surgery, Dr. Weiss determined that plaintiff’s shoulder socket was “so badly damaged that it had to be repaired utilizing a cadaver bone piece and surgical screws.” Plaintiff suffered many complications, including a severe infection, an additional surgery, and a PICC line for antibiotics. After her shoulder healed, plaintiff was left with a “partial physical impairment.”

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Citing the Rule of Sevens, the Court of Appeals recently affirmed a finding that a 13-year-old was solely responsible for his injury when he fell on the bleachers at his school.

In Crockett v. Sumner County Board of Educ., No. M2015-02227-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2016), injured plaintiff and his parents sued his school after he fell on bleachers in the gym. Plaintiff was attending summer school, and the day before his injury someone had intentionally caused flooding in a boys’ bathroom. Because no one would confess, two coaches had all of the eighth grade boys help clean the bathroom and pick up trash from the bleachers. According to plaintiff, he mopped the bathroom and then was told to begin helping in the bleachers, though the coach supervising the work testified that plaintiff was not told to work in the bleachers after mopping.

At the time of his injury, plaintiff was using the bleacher seats as stairs, rather than using the designated stairway on the bleachers. Plaintiff stated that the coach had left the gym when he fell, but the coach testified that he had left for a couple of minutes to retrieve a dry mop and had returned to the gym by the time of plaintiff’s accident.

During a bench trial, plaintiff testified that “he knew from the time he was a little kid that he was not supposed to use the bleacher seats as steps,” and that such usage could cause injury. He further testified that he “just wasn’t thinking about it” at the time of the accident. Two coaches from his school testified that they had told the students on many occasions not to use the seats as steps but to instead use the designated steps, which had non-slip material on them.

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In Parvin v. Newman, No. E2016-00549-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 9, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant in an abuse of process claim.

Husband and wife had litigated a contentious divorce, and during the course of that proceeding, wife had filed a Motion to Impose Sanctions for Contempt. Nine months and many filings later, a Final Judgment of Divorce was entered in the case, with the parties stipulating to the terms of the divorce. Particularly of note, the divorce judgment stated that “the parties had reached an agreement to settle and compromise all of the matters in dispute between them and that they [had] freely, voluntarily and knowingly entered into an agreement that is reflected” in the final judgment.

Three months after the divorce was finalized, husband filed this abuse of process claim against wife, alleging that “Wife’s purpose in filing her July 2014 contempt motion had been to harass him, cause him to incur unnecessary expenses to defend the motion, weaken his resolve to continue litigation of the divorce, and settle for terms favorable to wife.” Wife argued, however, that “husband’s complaint should be dismissed on the basis of res judicata and because the undisputed facts negate the essential elements of husband’s claims for abuse of process.”

The trial court ultimately granted summary judgment to wife on the basis of both res judicata and husband’s inability to prove his case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Plaintiff husband argued that his abuse of process claim was a separate tort claim that he had not had the opportunity to litigate in the divorce case. He stated in an affidavit to the trial court that “if [he] had amended [his] divorce complaint to allege abuse of process it would have hardened wife’s position toward settlement.” He also asserted that he “entered into the divorce settlement under duress,” as he “did not want to have to defend [himself] against charges that might [have] land[ed] [him] in jail.” The Court, though, rejected this argument.

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In Miller v. Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District, No. W2016-01170-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 8, 2016), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in a slip and fall case based on a lack of proof of notice of the dangerous condition.

Plaintiff was visiting her brother at defendant hospital when she left his room to find a nurse. In the hallway, she allegedly slipped and fell in water and injured herself, which was the basis for this premises liability suit. According to plaintiff’s trial testimony, she did not see anything on the floor before she fell, but after her fall she noticed a “trail of water [that] led to a food cart against the wall in the hallway.” Plaintiff did not inspect the cart, and she “did not know whether the water was leaking from the food cart or had been spilled near it.” She also did not know how long the water had been there or whether any hospital employees knew about the water.

After a bench trial, the trial court “found the evidence insufficient to demonstrate that the Hospital or its employees caused or had actual or constructive notice of the water on the floor prior to [plaintiff’s] fall,” and thus entered judgment for defendant. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision.

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In Kempson v. Casey, No. E2015-02184-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2016), the Court of Appeals vacated a jury’s finding of no damages for a plaintiff who presented uncontroverted expert proof regarding injuries he alleged to have sustained in a car accident.

Plaintiff was rear-ended by defendant when he was sitting in traffic on the interstate. Although defendant did not deny that the collision occurred, the parties had vastly different accounts of what happened. Plaintiff alleged that defendant was going around 50 miles per hour when she hit him, that his car was knocked forward 5-6 car lengths (but that he did not hit the vehicles in front of him), and that after the accident defendant had blood going down her leg. Defendant, on the other hand, testified that she was driving between 10 and 15 miles per hour at the time of the collision, that the impact was “minor,” that her airbag did not deploy, and that she did not bleed. Both parties agreed that both vehicles were driven away from the scene.

Plaintiff sued for negligence, asserting that “as a result of the accident, [he] began experiencing intractable neck and low back pain that ultimately necessitated” surgery. In support of his claims, plaintiff presented testimony from his surgeon and his chiropractor. Both of these experts testified that plaintiff had “preexisting complaints related to his cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine,” and that his “post-accident complaints were similar to his pre-accident complaints.” The surgeon testified, though, that in his opinion “the accident at issue caused [plaintiff’s] medical condition to worsen to the point that surgery was necessary.”

In Hoynacki v. Hoynacki, No. E2015-02084-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 31, 2016), the Court of Appeals overturned summary judgment in a case about whether a dad had a duty to hold or stabilize a ladder for his son.

Defendant father owned an RV, and while he was camping in North Carolina near where his son lived, he called his son and asked him to help wax the RV. The two spent Saturday and Sunday waxing the RV. “When the RV’s height required the use of a ladder, plaintiff got on it to wax the top parts, and defendant stayed on the ground to stabilize and secure the ladder.” On their second day of work, plaintiff was on the ladder waxing the front part of the RV above the windshield. The ground where the ladder was sitting sloped away from the RV such that one side of the ladder was lower than the other. Defendant placed the ladder in this position, and then walked to the other side of the RV while plaintiff was working. When plaintiff began to come down the ladder, the ladder fell and plaintiff was seriously injured.

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In Redick v. Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, No. M2016-00428-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2016), the Court addressed the need for a certificate of good faith in an HCLA (f/k/a Tennessee medical malpractice) claim when the breach of duty question falls within the common knowledge exception, but the causation portion of the claim would require expert testimony.

Here, plaintiff was admitted to the hospital with complaints of dizziness and falling. Certain fall precautions were put into place during her stay. Five days after she was admitted, a hospital employee was assisting her in using a portable toilet and allegedly did not follow the prescribed fall precautions—the toilet was not put within reach of the bed, and the employee did not adequately assist plaintiff in getting back to her bed. Plaintiff fell when trying to return to her bed and struck the bedside table, which prompted this suit.

Before filing suit, plaintiff did not give pre-suit notice under the HCLA, and she failed to file a certificate of good faith with her complaint. In response to defendant hospital’s motion to dismiss with prejudice due to the lack of a certificate of good faith, plaintiff asserted that “her claims [fell] within the common knowledge exception such that expert proof is not required, thus forgiving her failure to file a certificate of good faith.” After a hearing, the trial court held: “While this Court finds this case is appropriate for application of the common knowledge exception, expert testimony would still be required on the element of causation to show that ‘as a proximate result of the defendant’s negligent act or omission, the plaintiff suffered injuries which would not otherwise have occurred.’” On appeal, the ruling was affirmed.

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In Hamilton v. Holderman, No. M2015-02302-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2015), the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed a damages award in a conversion case.

In the underlying dispute, plaintiffs had rented a furnished house and barn to defendants, which the defendants argued they had orally agreed to buy. Plaintiffs filed a forcible entry and detainer warrant in general sessions court, and defendants eventually vacated the property. When defendants left, they took “certain furnishings and other personalty owned by [plaintiffs]” with them, and this suit for conversion followed.

Plaintiffs initially filed in general sessions court and were awarded $24,999 in damages, the full jurisdictional limit. Defendants appealed to circuit court, where a jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs in the amount of $40,000. Defendants appealed that verdict to the Court of Appeals, arguing that there was not “material evidence in the record to support the jury’s verdict of damages for $40,000.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the award.