Property owners may be responsible for injuries caused by their negligence in certain situations. In a March 15, 2018 case, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee considered a personal injury action filed against a homeowner who had hired the plaintiff to paint her house. The defendant in the case had provided the plaintiff with the materials and ladders needed to access the exterior of her house. While using the defendant’s folding ladder, the plaintiff fell to the ground, injuring his wrist. The plaintiff sued the defendant for damages, alleging that she was negligent in providing him with old ladders that were unsafe.
Negligence is generally defined as a failure to exercise reasonable care. To succeed on a negligence claim in Tennessee, the plaintiff must prove five elements: (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) conduct below the standard of care that amounts to a breach of that duty; (3) an injury; (4) cause in fact; and (5) proximate, or legal, cause. A defendant’s conduct constitutes the cause in fact of a plaintiff’s injury if the injury would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s conduct. When determining whether proximate cause exists, the court considers whether the injury that occurred was reasonably foreseeable by the defendant.
The plaintiff in the case had testified during his deposition that he did not know what caused him to fall off the ladder, and he could not state for certain whether the ladder had failed, whether he lost his balance, or if something else had caused him to fall. On appeal, the court observed that generally, a plaintiff cannot prove the defendant’s liability on a negligence claim when the plaintiff is unable to identify what caused the fall, either personally or with the use of outside witnesses. The court went on to hold that the plaintiff’s speculation about the cause of his injury was insufficient to establish the element of causation in fact.
The court also found that if, in fact, the ladders were defective, the defendant was not aware of the defects. Furthermore, the plaintiff did not point to any evidence showing that it was foreseeable to the defendant that the plaintiff would suffer an injury as a result of the ladders’ condition. Since the plaintiff’s expert did not link the folding ladder’s condition with the plaintiff’s fall, his testimony also failed to provide any evidence of causation. Accordingly, since the plaintiff was unable to put forth sufficient evidence of causation, the court ruled that summary judgment in favor of the defendant was appropriate.
The Nashville premises liability attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard represent plaintiffs who have been hurt in accidents on the property of another person or business. If you have questions regarding a slip and fall action, a wrongful death case, or any other injury claim arising out of negligence, we can provide legal advice. Contact our office by phone at (615) 800-7096 or online to schedule a free consultation with one of our dedicated negligence attorneys.