Court Finds Issues of Material Fact As To Whether Owner Acted With Reasonable Care

In premises liability cases we often think of claims as being brought by outside third parties who are visiting a property but have no particular affiliation to it. These can be customers who enter a store, delivery men dropping off a package, or party guests coming over for a night of fun.  Less well known is the fact that premises liability claims also apply to independent contractors and workers who are hired to be on a property for a certain amount of time.  A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals illustrates this fact.

In this construction accident case, E.M. brought claims against CSC Sugar, LLC after he was injured while working at their warehouse. E.M. was a subcontractor employee who had been hired to renovate CSC’s warehouse. At the time of the accident he was up on scaffolding using a screw gun to secure sheetrock to an interior wall. Because the warehouse had limited electricity available, E.M.’s screw gun was connected to a one hundred foot extension cord that ran to the nearest outlet. Based on where E.M. was working at the time, the extension cord crossed an open doorway that was being used by CSC employees. At the time of the accident, one CSC employee drove a forklift over the doorway, the forklift became entangled with the extension cord and the snare pulled the screw gun and the scaffolding that E.M was located on, causing E.M. to fall ten feet to the concrete below. E.M. sued CSC for damages, arguing that CSC failed to maintain its property in a a reasonably safe condition.

At the motion for summary judgment state, CSC argued that E.M. had in fact caused the dangerous condition because he arranged the extension cord across the doorway, and he was aware of this condition, and on this basis there was no failure of CSC to exercise reasonable care or warn E.M. of the dangerous situation. Accordingly, the lower court granted CSC’s motion for summary judgment and E.M. appealed.

On appeal, E.M. argued that it was not the extension cord that caused the accident but the failure of CSC to warn its employees about the extension cord, the contractors working on the property, and the hazard that could be created by driving forklifts in the area. Premises liability claims in Tennessee may be maintained against owners when a plaintiff can prove the elements of a negligence claim and can show that the condition was (1) caused or created by the owner, operator or his agent or (2) if created by someone else, that there was actual or constructive knowledge by the owner of the condition.

Here, the Court of Appeals noted that while the CSC did not create the extension cord laying across the doorway, it was aware of the cord and may have created the dangerous condition of allowing forklift drivers to drive across the extension cord. In several interviews with CSC employees, they testified that they knew the extension cord was there and that it created a dangerous situation that needed to be treated carefully by the forklift drivers. Indeed, at least one employee testified that he repeatedly warned forklift drivers of the issue. The Court of Appeals held that CSC did owe E.M. a duty to ensure that E.M.’s work area was safe. Once it knew of the extension cord situation, it had an obligation to keep the area around the extension cord safe. The court noted that there were clearly genuine issues of material fact as to whether CSC had done so, given the testimony of its employees. Accordingly, summary judgment was not appropriate. It therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

If you are an independent contractor who is injured while on the job as a result of a property owner’s negligence, you may have a potential premise liability claim. If you are looking for someone to assist you in evaluating this claim, premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can work with you to determine what options may be available. For more information, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Court Finds That Employer Is Not Responsible for Conduct of Independent Contractor, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog,

Tennessee Court Finds Homeowner Not Responsible for Worker’s Fall, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, March 20, 2018.

Tennessee Court Holds No Duty to Keep Parking Spots Safe, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 15, 2017.