A defendant may be held liable for any foreseeable injuries caused as a result of his or her negligence. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently addressed the issue of foreseeability in a January 31, 2017 opinion regarding a personal injury action. In that case, the plaintiffs filed a negligence action seeking damages for injuries sustained after a deck collapsed at the defendants’ home. The lower court dismissed the claim, finding that the injuries were not reasonably foreseeable, and the plaintiffs appealed.
The action arose from a party hosted for approximately 40 to 70 high school students at the defendants’ home in 2008. At the time, the plaintiff was 14 years old. While the plaintiff and others were dancing and jumping on an elevated, wooden deck attached to the house, the deck suddenly collapsed, causing the plaintiff to fall and sustain injuries. Within a year after the plaintiff turned 18, the plaintiffs filed suit against the homeowners, alleging that they were negligent in supervising the children, failing to prevent the deck collapse and injuries, and failing to exercise reasonable care.
To succeed in a negligence action in Tennessee, the plaintiff must establish the following: (1) a duty of care that the defendant owed to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) causation in fact; and (5) proximate or legal causation. All people have a general duty to use reasonable care to refrain from conduct that will foreseeably cause an injury to others. However, if the injury could not have been reasonably foreseen, the duty of care does not arise, and there is no negligence and no liability, even when the act of the defendant, in fact, caused the injury.
On appeal, the issue for the court was whether or not the injuries suffered by the plaintiff were reasonably foreseeable. The plaintiffs argued that the possibility of harm was foreseeable because of the number of children on the deck, the dynamic action of their dancing and jumping, and the flexing of the deck. The defendants presented evidence that they had hosted numerous parties for as many as 200 guests prior to the collapse without any issue. The deck had also passed inspection at the time of construction and in subsequent inspections by the government as part of security precautions for political events that had taken place on the defendants’ property. In light of the defendants’ many previous parties and multiple passed inspections, the appeals court agreed that the incident was not reasonably foreseeable. Accordingly, the court held that the defendants were not liable.
If you have questions concerning your legal recourse following an accident or injury, a qualified lawyer can assist in explaining your options. The Nashville injury attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard can provide aggressive representation and trusted advice regarding premises liability cases, wrongful death actions, and many other personal injury claims. To learn more from one of our dedicated attorneys, call Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard at (615) 800-7096 or contact us online and schedule an appointment.