Tennessee Court of Appeals Rejects Complaint Of Negligence Based on Recurring Conduct

In a premises liability case, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant had either actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that led to the accident. Actual knowledge occurs when the defendant observed the dangerous condition or created it. Constructive knowledge arises when the defendant should have known about the dangerous condition. One way that constructive knowledge can be proven is when there is a pattern of conduct or recurring incidents such that the defendant reasonably should have been on notice of a problem. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at what it takes to prove negligence based on recurring incidents and patterns of conduct.

In a Tennessee premises liability case, W.K. was attending a concert at the Bridgestone Arena when she went to buy a drink at the concession stand. On her way, she slipped and fell on a large pool of liquid that had gathered between sections of seats. At the time of her fall, several employees were standing around the spill, and W.K. alleged that one of them had a broom and dustpan. After the fall, W.K.’s injuries required several surgeries, and she sued for damages. After discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that they did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. In response, W.K. argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants had constructive knowledge because (1) several employees were standing near the spill at the time of the fall; (2) Bridgestone’s policy was for employees not to clean up spills until an event was over; and (3) there were multiple spills in the arena throughout the night, including one spill in a section near hers a little over an hour before her fall.

The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that W.K. had not established how and when the liquid was spilled, how long it had been there, whether employees had noticed or reported it, or whether the defendant was generally on notice of it. Accordingly, the trial court held there was no constructive knowledge. W.K. appealed.

On appeal, W.K. argued that constructive knowledge can be imputed to the defendants because the spill that injured her was part of a series of recurring incidents at the arena that was an ongoing problem. In Tennessee, recurring incidents can be evidence of a common ongoing dangerous condition of which a property owner should be aware. The argument is that the incidents occur so often that the defendant should be on constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. However, in order to establish recurring incidents that create constructive knowledge, the prior incidents must occur in a similar location and similar way as the incident that caused the plaintiff’s injury.

Here, while numerous spills were reported on the night of the plaintiff’s injury, most were in entirely different areas of the arena than where she was located. Only one spill happened in a section near hers. The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that one prior incident could not establish a pattern of recurring conduct, since it could just as easily be a random occurrence. The one prior spill that night did not create such a pattern of conduct that the defendants would have been on notice of a dangerous condition. Accordingly, it affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment.

If you cannot establish that a defendant had actual notice of the dangerous condition that led to your injuries, one alternative is to establish constructive knowledge through a pattern of conduct or past incidents. When collecting information about past conduct, this case makes clear that the prior incidents must be sufficiently related both in manner and in location to your accident in order to create constructive knowledge. Tennessee premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help you build a case for this type of constructive knowledge. 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 Lack of Knowledge of Dangerous Condition Sufficient For Summary Judgment, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, July 7, 2016