Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Where a roofer was injured when he fell from a homeowner’s roof and bounced over the nearby scaffolding, but the homeowner had rented the scaffolding himself and chosen to erect it himself rather than paying the scaffolding company to install it, summary judgment for the scaffolding company on both the premises liability and general negligence claims was affirmed because the scaffolding company owed no duty to either the roofer or the homeowner.

In Lynch v. Poe, No. M2021-00867-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 4112706 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 9, 2022), plaintiff was a roofer who was injured while working on a homeowner’s roof. While replacing shingles on the roof, plaintiff slipped and fell, bounced over the scaffolding, and fell to the ground. According to plaintiff, he was unable to stop himself on the scaffolding because guardrails had not been installed thereon.

The homeowner who had hired the roofing company had entered into a separate contract with DSS, an equipment company, and rented scaffolding from them. Although DSS offered scaffolding installation for a fee, the homeowner chose to install the scaffolding himself. While the homeowner had some experience with smaller projects, he admitted that this “scaffolding project was more involved than any project he had undertaken.” Although DSS employees visited the home a few times to bring scaffolding pieces and one DSS employee warned against using cinder blocks to level the scaffolding based on what he observed at the home, “at no point did [the homeowner] request or indicate to DSS that he would like an inspection of the scaffolding he had installed or that he would like to purchase the scaffolding installation service.”

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Where defendant governmental entity did not own the park where plaintiff was injured, and plaintiff was attending a concert in the park when she fell, summary judgment based on both the GTLA and Recreational Use Statute was affirmed.

In Costner v. Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks & Recreation Commission, No. E2021-00189-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 3092906 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 3, 2022), plaintiff was attending a concert in a park when she stepped into a hole covered by grass clippings and broke her ankle. The park was owned by the City of Alcoa but controlled by the Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks and Recreation Commission (the Commission).

Plaintiff initially filed a premises liability case against the City of Alcoa, but later filed an amended complaint naming Alcoa, the City of Maryville, Blount County, and the Commission as defendants. The trial court first granted summary judgment to Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County, finding that Alcoa did not control the park, and Maryville and Blount County neither owned nor controlled the park, both of which are required to remove immunity under the GTLA. The Commission later filed its own motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from suit under the GTLA and Recreational Use Statute. The trial court agreed, granting the motion, and summary judgment was affirmed on appeal.

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Where a premises liability plaintiff tripped when her shoe heel went into a small divot in an outdoor stairway that was “mere centimeters thick,” summary judgment for defendant was affirmed on the basis that the divot “amounted to a minor aberration and…the defendants did not owe her a duty of care.”

In Tino v. Walker, No. M2021-01230-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 2794096 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 18, 2022), plaintiff was shopping at a shopping center area in Nashville. After leaving one store, she exited down a set of outdoor brick stairs, and the heel of her shoe caught in a small divot in the brick on the second-to-last step, causing her to fall.

Plaintiff filed this premises liability suit, and defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, finding that “because the defects complained of were small aberrations, the foreseeability and gravity of harm considerations [did] not support a finding of liability on the part of Defendants,” and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Where plaintiff’s deposition created a “dispute of material fact” as to whether defendant had actual notice of the alleged dangerous condition in this GTLA premises liability case, summary judgment for defendant was reversed.

In Vaughn v. Coffee County, Tennessee, No. M2021-00653-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 1652552 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 25, 2022) (memorandum opinion), plaintiff was an inmate at defendant county’s jail. Plaintiff alleged that the toilet in his cell leaked, causing water to accumulate in the floor, which caused him to slip and badly injure his hip one day when he was hurriedly getting his plate of food from an officer at the front of his cell. Plaintiff admitted that he was aware of the water and even stated that he had slipped in the water a few days prior to this incident.

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted based on its ruling that plaintiff had not presented proof from which the court could find that defendant had notice of the allegedly dangerous condition. On appeal, this ruling was reversed.

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Where plaintiff was injured while mowing a common area of his neighborhood, but plaintiff did not have permission to mow in the common area and permission was required by the neighborhood covenants, summary judgment in favor of defendant in this premises liability case was affirmed.

In Walker v. Rivertrail Crossing Homeowner’s Association Inc., No. W2020-01201-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 852904 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 23, 2022), plaintiff and his wife lived in the Rivertrail neighborhood and were members of the defendant homeowner’s association (HOA). Plaintiff’s home was adjacent to a common area that included a retaining wall at the edge of the neighborhood property, and plaintiff complained to a member of the HOA board that the ivy covering a portion of this common area was an eyesore. The board member told plaintiff to submit his concerns in writing to the HOA, but plaintiff failed to do so. Instead, plaintiff attempted to cut the ivy using his riding lawnmower, and when he encountered a trough that was covered by ivy and not visible, he was thrown from the mower and injured.

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Where plaintiff entered defendant’s property to return two pot-bellied pigs that were owned by defendant’s stepson but lived on defendant’s property and were running loose, and plaintiff had been on the property before without defendant objecting, plaintiff was not a trespasser and had implied permission to come onto the property.  

In Cook v. Fuqua, No. M2021-00107-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 244532 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 27, 2022), plaintiff’s father and defendant were neighbors. Defendant’s adult stepson lived at defendant’s residence and kept pot-bellied pigs on the property. When plaintiff was visiting her father, she heard the pigs at her father’s door, rounded them up, then went onto defendant’s porch to inform someone at the residence that the pigs were loose. While she was knocking, one of the pigs knocked her off the porch and she sustained injuries. Notably, defendant had not been to the residence in the preceding month due to an order of protection, but he was still the owner. 

Plaintiff filed this negligence suit, and defendant filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that plaintiff was a trespasser and he thus only “owed her a duty to not cause her injury intentionally, with gross negligence, or by willful and wanton conduct.” The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment, but that ruling was reversed on appeal.  

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Where premises liability plaintiffs could not show that defendant church, who was renting the property to another church, had constructive notice of a downed power line on the property that had most likely been down for approximately 26 hours, summary judgment was affirmed.

In Kelly v. Debre Keranio Medhanialem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, No. M2019-02238-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 202639 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2022), plaintiffs were the parents of a minor child who was severely injured when he was playing on property owned by defendant church and he came into contact with a downed power line. Defendant church owned a tract of property that included four buildings. Defendant leased two of the buildings, the sanctuary and the fellowship hall, to St. Mary Church, who used the buildings and took on responsibilities for the buildings, including minor maintenance and paying the electric bill. Defendant was responsible for mowing the grass between the fellowship hall and sanctuary, and it paid a service to perform this work.

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Where a minor child was injured while playing on a playground at a state park, and after the incident a park ranger admitted that the mulch under the playground was not thick enough but no prior notice of the mulch condition had been shown, plaintiff had not proven gross negligence to overcome the immunity afforded to the State under the Tennessee Recreational Use Statute. In Victory v. State, No. M2020-01610-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2021), plaintiffs’ minor child had gone camping with her grandparents at a state park. While there, the child went with her grandmother to play on a playground, and the child fell off the playground, fracturing her arm. The grandparents took pictures of the area the day after the fall, and plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that the “injury was due to inadequate mulch or padding on the playground.”

Plaintiffs’ complaint asserted claims for negligence, gross negligence, and gross negligence per se. After discovery, the State filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Claims Commissioner granted on two grounds. First, the Claims Commissioner ruled that the claim was “barred by § 70-7-102(a) of Tennessee’s Recreational Use Statute, which protects landowners, including the State of Tennessee, from responsibility for injury to recreational visitors.” The Commissioner further found that the gross negligence exception to the Recreational Use Statute did not apply here. Second, the Commissioner ruled that “Plaintiffs failed to establish an essential element of their claim under § 9-8-307(a)(1)(C) of the Claims Commission Act, that the proper state official had been given prior notice of the playground’s condition.” On appeal, summary judgment for the State was affirmed.

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Where plaintiff was injured in a car accident when a culvert underneath the road collapsed, and an inspector for defendant city had inspected the culvert the day before the accident and recommended construction begin just three days later to replace the culvert, summary judgment for defendant was reversed. In Carrick v. City of Shelbyville, Tennessee, No. M2020-01218-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 5, 2021), plaintiff was driving down a road owned and controlled by defendant city when a culvert under the road “gave way and the asphalt crumbled,” and plaintiff’s “vehicle became lodged in the resultant hole.” Plaintiff brought this suit under the GTLA, asserting that the city’s immunity was removed pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-203. The city filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff could not show that it had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition, and the trial court agreed, granting summary judgment. On appeal, that ruling was reversed.

It was undisputed that the city had the culvert inspected by Mr. Frazier on August 29, 2017, one day before the accident, and that as a result of that inspection, Mr. Frazier created a work order stating that work to replace the culvert would begin on September 1, 2017. The work order further provided that “the dig area will be through the road as we will replace the culvert.” In addition to the work order, the city submitted Mr. Frazier’s affidavit in support of summary judgment, in which he stated that “while the culvert needed replacing, he did not conclude from his inspection that the culvert posed ‘any threat to the stability or integrity of the road.’” The city also submitted affidavits stating that there had been “no previous complaints or reports regarding damage to the relevant portion” of the road.

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Where plaintiff filed a premises liability claim against the State asserting that decedent’s death was caused by injuries he sustained when he fell off a sidewalk that constituted a dangerous condition, but plaintiff could not “show that the condition of the sidewalk more likely than not caused” the fall, summary judgment for defendant was affirmed.

In O’Guin v. State, No. M2020-00732-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 28, 2021), decedent was admitted to the Tennessee State Veterans’ Home after suffering a stroke. He was in a wheelchair, but was “alert, oriented, and able to communicate with staff.” While spending time outside just two days after his admission, decedent “fell outside the facility entrance” and “suffered serious injuries and tragically died five days later.”

Plaintiff filed this case with the Claims Commission as administrator of decedent’s estate, “alleging that the State negligently created or maintained a dangerous condition on the property.” Plaintiff asserted that decedent was “fatally injured after his wheelchair fell off the sidewalk in front of the facility entrance,” and that the height of the sidewalk combined with the “lack of sufficient markings or barriers at the edge of the sidewalk created a dangerous condition.”

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