Tennessee Court Finds Lack of Knowledge of Dangerous Condition Sufficient for Summary Judgment

Many negligence cases arise out of a failure of one party to properly protect others.  A party may choose to cut corners, thereby creating a dangerous product, or may knowingly fail to correct an existing problem in order to save money.  In these circumstances, when another person is injured as a result of such conditions, a claim for negligence or even wrongful death is often proper.  However, in other situations, accidents happen when no one individual or party is to blame.  A condition may arise that could not have been foreseen, or a danger may be created of which no one previously knew.  When this happens, although the injury or death may be significant, it may also be the case that no one defendant is to blame.  A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals holds that liability cannot be assigned to a defendant who simply had no knowledge of the dangerous condition that existed.

In Landrum, et al. v. Methodist Medical Center, et al., Ms. Landrum was visiting her mother at the Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge when she slipped and fell in a puddle of water on the fifth floor of the hospital. As a result of the fall, she fractured her patella and had to have several surgeries. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Landrum sued Methodist for her injuries.  During depositions, Ms. Landrum acknowledged that she had not noticed the puddle when she was leaving the fifth floor, but she slipped on it 15 minutes later when she returned. She did not know how the puddle was created, how long it had been there, or from where it came.  Methodist employees who were working on the fifth floor at the time of the accident testified that they did not notice the puddle until Ms. Landrum slipped, that no one had alerted them to the danger, and that they were not previously aware of it.

After discovery was over, Methodist filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, finding that Ms. Landrum had provided no evidence to show that Methodist had any knowledge of the puddle, or the dangerous condition it caused, prior to Ms. Landrum’s fall.  The trial court concluded that Methodist could not be held liable for a danger of which it was not aware. Ms. Landrum appealed.

On appeal, Ms. Landrum argued that it was a question of fact for the jury to consider whether Methodist could have had constructive knowledge of the puddle that caused her fall. She argued that there were several nurses working on the floor at the time of the accident, that they worked close to the puddle, and that their failure to notice or remove the puddle could amount to constructive notice.  The court noted that defendants may be liable when they have actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition, and constructive notice exists when there is evidence that a defendant could have discovered a fact by proper diligence and had a duty to do so. Here, however, the Tennessee Court determined that there was simply no evidence to support a finding of constructive notice. Ms. Landrum could not testify to the puddle having been on the fifth floor for a long period of time, or that employees walked by the puddle without addressing it. She did not know if the puddle was obvious, and she herself had not noticed it when leaving the floor.  The court held that there was no evidence of the source of the puddle, or why it was there, and nothing to connect Methodist to the puddle prior to Ms. Landrum’s injury.  Accordingly, it upheld the grant of summary judgment to Methodist.

While you or your family members may feel anger, pain, sorrow, and frustration after an injury occurs to someone you love, the mere existence of a dangerous condition and a resulting injury does not always mean that there is a legal claim ripe for pursuit.  An experienced and discerning personal injury attorney can help you evaluate the circumstances of your case and determine whether it is worth investigating further or filing a claim. Often, the facts necessary to support a negligence lawsuit can be uncovered during the discovery process, but a failure to do so can result in legal bills and lost time, with little prospect for relief. Experienced premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can assist you in evaluating your negligence claim and can advise you on the evidence necessary to show actual or constructive knowledge. If you have recently been in an accident and are uncertain about your rights, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Knowledge of Hazards and the Failure to Warn, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, July 7, 2016

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

Evaluating Dangerous Road Conditions in Tennessee – When is Notice of Risk Enough?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 19, 2015