Tennessee Plaintiff Wins on Appeal, Proceeds with Negligence Lawsuit Against Restaurant

Tennessee businesses have a responsibility to keep their customers safe from unreasonably dangerous conditions on their property.  In an August 18, 2017 case, the Court of Appeals reviewed a Tennessee injury claim brought by a plaintiff who slipped and fell at a local restaurant and claimed negligence.  After the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff filed an appeal.

The plaintiff in the case was picking up lunch from the restaurant for approximately 25-30 people, including drinks and bags of ice.  After picking up a box containing food and a bag of ice, the plaintiff turned to leave and fell.  She testified that the floor wasn’t wet when she entered the restaurant, but when she fell, she was lying in water on the floor.  She also stated that the bag of ice felt mostly like water.  The manager of the restaurant testified in his deposition that the ice had been set out for a while and that condensation from the bag of ice had dripped onto the floor.  The plaintiff also offered testimony from her expert, who asserted that the industry norm is to store bags of ice in a freezer until the customer arrives to pick up the order.

In Tennessee, a negligence claim requires a plaintiff to prove:  (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) conduct by the defendant falling below the standard of care, amounting to a breach of the duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) causation in fact; and (5) proximate causation.  In a premises liability case, a business owner or occupier has a duty to exercise reasonable care with regard to customers on the premises.  This duty includes the responsibility to remove or warn against hidden dangerous conditions of which the occupier was aware or should have been aware.

The lower court had ruled that, since the water did not drip onto the floor until the plaintiff picked up the bag of ice, the defendant could not have known about the injury-causing condition prior to the accident.  The appeals court, however, found that the injury-causing condition included the partially melted bag of ice with condensation on it waiting to be picked up by the plaintiff.  The court went on to state that only the defendant, and not the plaintiff, had actual knowledge of how long the bag of ice had been sitting out at room temperature before the plaintiff arrived to pick up her order.

The appeals court then balanced the foreseeability and gravity of the potential risk of harm to a customer with the burden imposed upon a restaurant to protect against such foreseeable harm.  The court held that, since the defendant knew the bag of ice had been sitting out for a while and melting, it had a duty to either keep the bag of ice in a freezer until the plaintiff arrived, or to warn the plaintiff that the bag of ice had been sitting out and could drip water, causing a potentially dangerous condition.  As a result, the court reversed summary judgment and allowed the plaintiff to proceed with her claim against the restaurant.

If your injury was caused by the negligence of another person or business, you may be able to recoup your medical expenses and other losses through a personal injury action.  The Nashville injury attorneys at MHPS have substantial experience litigating premises liability claims, medical malpractice actions, and many other personal injury cases.  To discuss your options with a member of our team, call MHPS at (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.

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