Refusal to Give Requested Jury Instructions Was Not Error

Where the trial court refused to give special jury instructions requested by plaintiff in a premises liability case, but the relevant issues were sufficiently covered in instructions that basically mirrored the Tennessee Civil Pattern Jury Instructions, the trial court did not err and the jury verdict for defendant was affirmed.

In Creech v. RMRTN Chatt, LLC, No. W2017-01541-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 11, 2018), plaintiff was contracted to do HVAC work on a building owned by defendant when a roof-access ladder he was using detached from the building and fell. Plaintiff brought this premises liability suit, alleging that defendant “failed to properly inspect and maintain its ladder in good condition,” but defendant argued during a jury trial that plaintiff “was familiar with the store and its roof-access ladder,” that it had performed proper inspections of the ladder, and that plaintiff’s actions “were the proximate and legal cause of his injury.” After a six-day trial, the jury returned a verdict for defendant.

Plaintiff raised several issues on appeal, one being the admissibility of certain expert testimony. First, plaintiff took issue with defendant’s expert witness, but the Court noted that because the trial court had reserved ruling on plaintiff’s motion in limine regarding this witness, “it was incumbent upon [plaintiff] to lodge timely specific objections during the trial concerning the substance and/or scope” of the testimony. The only timely objection was in reference to testimony about whether leaving a hatch door open was an OSHA violation and thus was relevant to defendant’s affirmative defense of negligence per se. Because the trial court ultimately refused to instruct the jury on the negligence per se defense, the Court of Appeals ruled that any error regarding the admissibility of this testimony was harmless.

Second, plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in ruling that plaintiff’s expert witness did not lay a proper foundation for his testimony that plaintiff was now 100% disabled and unemployable. Because this testimony only went to the amount of damages and the jury found that defendant was not liable for any damages, however, the Court found that any error here was also harmless.

Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff’s assertion that the trial court erred in refusing to give special jury instructions requested by plaintiff. Plaintiff requested three special instructions, but the trial court refused these and instead gave instructions that very closely mirrored the Tennessee Civil Pattern Jury Instructions on negligence and premises liability. The Court of Appeals ruled that this was not error, noting that “trial courts may give special instructions but need not give a special instruction whose substance is already covered in the general charge.” (internal citation and quotation omitted). The Court ruled that in this case “the requested special jury instructions are cumulative of the information set out in the Pattern Jury Instructions. As such, the special jury instructions were unnecessary to the jury’s understanding and application of the relevant law.”

Because all of plaintiff’s arguments were rejected, the jury verdict for defendant was affirmed.