Tennessee School Bus Driver Wins Appeal to Reverse Summary Judgment in Premises Liability Case

Having your legal claim heard in court is an important part of the civil justice system.  In a December 14, 2017 case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the plaintiff appealed a decision from a lower court granting summary judgment on her personal injury claim in favor of the defendant.  The decision would have prevented the plaintiff from recovering compensation from the defendant for the injuries she suffered on its property. Ultimately, however, the appeals court vacated the trial court’s order and allowed the case to proceed.

The plaintiff in the case was employed as a school bus driver by the local metro government (Metro). She parked her bus at the middle school to attend a mandatory training program. As she walked across the asphalt parking lot, she tripped on a buckled and cracked portion of the pavement and fell, sustaining injuries. The plaintiff filed an action alleging that Metro was negligent in maintaining the parking lot. Metro denied negligence and asserted that the action was controlled by the Governmental Tort Liability Act. The plaintiff then sought to amend her complaint to include allegations of negligence per se, asserting that Metro was in violation of several building codes.

Without addressing the plaintiff’s motion to amend, the trial court granted Metro’s motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the trial court found that, although the parking lot at issue was uneven due to a buckled pavement and a 54-foot crack, it did not have to be absolutely smooth as long as it was not unreasonably dangerous. The trial court held that it was not and also concluded that the plaintiff should have been aware of the open and obvious condition of the pavement.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because she had put forth evidence of negligence per se, and the defendant did not demonstrate that it was insufficient to establish her claim. In fact, the trial court’s judgment did not specifically mention any of the alleged building code violations. Metro, in turn, argued that the code compliance issues should not be considered because the plaintiff’s negligence per se claim was never added to her case.

Generally, permission to amend a complaint may be liberally granted by the court, but the decision is within the sound discretion of the court. Here, the appeals court noted that the trial court did not exercise any discretion or consider relevant factors informing its decision since it failed to make any determination regarding the plaintiff’s motion to amend. The appeals court then explained that previous courts have held that it was an abuse of discretion for a court to dismiss a lawsuit on the basis of the original complaint, without first considering and ruling on a pending motion to amend. Finding that the trial court failed to properly exercise its discretion in failing to rule on the pending motion, the appeals court vacated the summary judgment and remanded the matter back to the trial court.

The Nashville attorneys at MHPS provide dedicated legal representation to accident victims.  We have substantial experience handling premises liability cases, wrongful death actions, medical malpractice, and many other cases involving personal injury claims. To discuss your case with one of our trusted injury lawyers, call MHPS at (615) 800-7096 or contact us online and schedule your free consultation.

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