The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently made a decision in a premises liability case involving the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. In Williams v. City of Jamestown (Tenn. Ct. App. June 23, 2016), the plaintiff slipped and fell on ice in the parking area of the county courthouse. Since the parking lot was owned by the city, the plaintiff filed suit against the city under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. The trial court dismissed the claim, finding that the city did not breach a duty of care to the plaintiff, and even if there was a breach, the plaintiff was more than 50 percent at fault for his slip and fall injuries. The plaintiff subsequently appealed to the higher court.
In Williams, snowfall had accumulated up to six inches in the city of Jamestown on the day of the injury. City personnel had scraped and salted roads and parking lots on the night before and into the morning. When the plaintiff arrived at the courthouse, he observed that most of the parking lot was relatively clear of snow, with the exception of the north side of the building. However, the plaintiff parked in the area with remaining ice and snow because it had the only available space. As the plaintiff left the courthouse and walked toward his vehicle, someone spoke to him. When the plaintiff turned his gaze to the woman, he slipped on ice and fell, severely injuring his right wrist. The plaintiff brought suit against the city, which owned the parking lot.
In Tennessee, local governments have a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect individuals on their property from unreasonable risks of harm, like slip and fall injuries. Included in this duty is a duty to either remove dangerous conditions on their premises or to warn people about dangerous conditions of which the owner knows or should know. In the case of natural accumulations of snow and ice, property owners are expected to take reasonable steps to remove snow and ice within a reasonable time after it has formed or accumulated. Tennessee courts have previously held that what is reasonable depends upon many factors, including the length of time the accumulation has been present, the amount of the accumulation, whether the accumulation could be removed as a practical matter, the cost of removal, and the foreseeability of the injury.
The appeals court noted that the courthouse parking areas were double salted and that it would have been difficult to keep the salt-treated areas from refreezing because of the extremely low temperatures. The court ruled that based on the evidence of record, the trial court correctly found that the city did not breach its duty of reasonable care to the plaintiff. Furthermore, the court agreed that the city could not have reasonably scraped snow and ice between all of the curb stops and retaining walls in the parking lot. The appeals court, therefore, affirmed the order of dismissal.
A skilled personal injury attorney can evaluate the facts and evidence of a claim to present your case in a persuasive light to a judge or jury. At Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, our Nashville injury attorneys handle even the most complex premises liability cases with determination and experience. If you have been hurt in a slip and fall, a car crash, or another accident caused by negligence, contact our dedicated injury lawyers to discuss your case at (615) 800-7096 or online.