Premises Liability for Unmarked Drop-Offs in Tennessee

The doctrine of premises liability in Tennessee provides that, in certain situations, property owners can be held liable for injuries or accidents that occur to members of the public on their property. As Tennessee courts have previously acknowledged, however, “negligence cannot be presumed by the mere happening of an injury or accident.” Instead, a plaintiff seeking to recover compensation for injuries must show that there was a duty of care that the property owner owed to the plaintiff and that the property owner’s actions, or lack thereof, amounted to a breach of that duty, resulting in injuries to the plaintiff. While a duty of care should prevent property owners from knowingly ignoring obvious dangerous conditions on their property, it does not require them to prevent every possible injury from occurring, especially those that could not have been foreseen. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates this point.

In Mooney v. Genuine Parts Company, Ms. Mooney entered the NAPA auto parts store in Alamo, Tennessee to apply for a job.  After she was told that the position had been filled, she exited the store, walking out through the front entrance. The front entrance had a step down of approximately three inches, which Ms. Mooney did not see as she left. She lost her balance coming down from the step, fell, and was injured.  She sued the store and its owner for damages amounting to $750,000.

Genuine Parts Company immediately filed a motion for summary judgment after discovery was complete, arguing that there was no duty to warn Ms. Mooney of the step because they could not have known that it would cause her injuries.  The store manager testified that in 26 years of working with the store, no one had ever fallen or injured themselves on the step.  Likewise, they noted that Ms. Mooney had herself entered the store, walking over the step, just prior to her accident.  In response, Ms. Mooney argued that genuine issues in dispute existed as to whether Genuine Parts had a duty to warn her because employees of the store had acknowledged that it was possible someone could fall off the step, and the store manager himself had admitted he stumbled on occasion.  After reviewing the briefing and the evidence, the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment in Genuine Parts’ favor.  Ms. Mooney appealed.

Relying on the fact that no individual had ever been injured as a result of the step at the store, and that Ms. Mooney had herself observed the step when she entered the business and did not think it was a problem upon her exit, the court of appeals held that the trial court was correct in granting the motion for summary judgment. The court held that Genuine Parts had satisfied its burden to demonstrate that Ms. Mooney’s evidence was insufficient to state a claim for negligence. The evidence presented by Ms. Mooney did not create a triable issue of fact that would allow a jury to reasonably conclude that Genuine Parts could have been negligent. Accordingly, Ms. Mooney’s appeal was denied.

If you believe that the failures or errors of a property owner may have contributed to an injury you recently experienced, experienced premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate whether a duty of care was breached.  For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

What Constitutes a Known Dangerous Condition in Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 7, 2016.

Personal Injuries and Dirty Bathrooms: Edwards v. CSX Transp., Inc., Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, May 11, 2016.

Do Curbs For Wheelchair Ramps Constitute Dangerous Conditions In Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 27, 2016.