Tennessee Court Rejects Claim that Door Frame Was Dangerous Condition

In the day to day realities of life, we all have our moments when we trip while walking. We may be checking our phones, talking to someone else, or simply day dreaming the day away when we trip on a surface or object we didn’t see. If we’re lucky, we catch ourselves; if not, we fall. Despite the thousands of trips that occur every day, most do not rise to the level of a tort claim or negligence because the thing that caused us to fall was not inherently dangerous, or the owner of the property or object had no reason to believe any danger existed. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, one plaintiff tried to push a claim for negligence too far, arguing that a simple feature was enough to support his negligence claim.

In this Tennessee premises liability case, R.B. was in the process of getting routine drug testing for his work when he tripped and fell on a door frame leading into the testing facility. R.B. had been in the facility before without problem, but this time around, he was talking on the phone and not generally observing where he was going, so he did not notice the door frame as he tripped. The door frame raised slightly above the ground to accommodate the door, but it was not excessive or unusual in any respect. Despite these facts and circumstances, R.B. sued the location for negligence, alleging that the frame had caused his injuries because it was unreasonably dangerous.

The testing facility, Accurate, immediately responded with a summary judgment motion.  It made three arguments:  (1) that R.B. could not show that the door frame was unreasonably dangerous; (2) that R.B. could not show that anyone at Accurate was on notice of a dangerous condition; and (3) that R.B. was at least 50% liable for his injuries. In support of the summary judgment motion, Accurate attached photographs of the premises and the door frame, as well as deposition testimony from its facility manager, who stated that R.B. had never had any prior problems entering the premises, nor had any other visitors.

In response, R.B. acknowledged that he was not aware of any other individuals having problems with the same door frame, but the door frame did not appear to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and this lack of compliance suggested that the door frame was not safe. Noting that R.B. had not raised any claims under the ADA, the trial court held that R.B. had not established any genuine issue as to whether the door frame was unreasonably dangerous or whether Accurate knew of the danger of the door frame. It granted the motion for summary judgment, and R.B. appealed.

On appeal, R.B. argued only that there was evidence to suggest triable issues regarding the dangerousness of the door frame and Accurate’s knowledge. Under Tennessee law, in order to bring a successful premises liability claim, a plaintiff must show that a dangerous or defective condition existed and that the defendant was on notice of such danger, or the possibility of danger. Defendants cannot be held liable for problems or conditions of which they had no way of knowing.

Here, the appeals court noted that Accurate’s evidence had successfully shown that the door frame did not appear to be a dangerous condition, and Accurate had no reason to know or believe that the frame was a dangerous condition. The burden was on R.B. to rebut these arguments by showing genuine issues in dispute. Beyond the ADA argument, which the appeals court affirmed was not relevant, R.B. had not provided any evidence to the trial court to support his claims. Since his claims could not be substantiated, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.

When you bring a claim in Tennessee courts, you must be prepared to back it up with evidence. Judges will not rely on promises, speculation, or unsupported theories to keep your claim alive.  Knowledgeable premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help you assess the information and evidence available in your case and conduct further discovery if necessary to get you the facts you need. If you have recently been injured and are uncertain about your rights, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Reverses Lower Court In Premise Liability Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 23, 2017.

Tennessee Court Grants Summary Judgment When No Risk Could Have Been Anticipated, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 21, 2017

Tennessee Court Finds No Claim of Emotional Distress Exists for Property Damage, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 6, 2017