Accident victims may face additional challenges when pursuing a personal injury claim against a municipality or government body, due to legal restrictions on liability. However, there are statutory exceptions that may apply under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). In Miller v. Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District, et al. (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 8, 2016), the Tennessee Court of Appeals reviewed a negligence claim brought by the plaintiff against a municipal hospital after a lower court ruled in favor of the hospital following a bench trial.
In Miller, the plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell in water on the floor of a municipal hospital. The plaintiff filed suit against the hospital, alleging that it negligently caused her injuries by failing to maintain the hallway and protect her from hidden and latent defects of which it had knowledge. Although generally, a case may not be brought against a governmental entity under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the GTLA removes immunity in limited and enumerated instances for certain injuries.
Under the GTLA, a governmental entity such as the hospital in Miller is not immune from suit for an injury caused by the dangerous or defective condition of a public building or improvement owned and controlled by the governmental entity. For latent defective conditions, as in Miller, liability is only removed if the governmental entity had constructive or actual notice of the condition. Accordingly, the plaintiff must establish that a dangerous condition existed and that the hospital had notice of the condition. Notice may be shown when the condition was caused or created by the defendant, or when the condition was caused by someone other than the defendant if the defendant nevertheless had actual or constructive notice of the condition prior to the accident.
The appeals court found that the evidence did not establish that the hospital caused or had actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition. The only evidence presented was the plaintiff’s testimony, but it was not sufficient to prove notice because she did not know what caused the spill of water on the floor or whether the hospital was aware of the spill. However, the plaintiff argued that under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, negligence may be inferred from the circumstances surrounding the injury. Rather than proving specific acts of negligence, a plaintiff must present evidence from which the fact-finder can conclude that the injury was caused, more probably than not, by the defendant’s negligence.
In Miller, the court explained that while it was possible that the water leaked from a food cart as a result of the hospital’s negligence, the evidence did not foreclose other reasonable explanations for the water’s presence on the floor, in that it was possible that another visitor spilled the water. Accordingly, the court found that the evidence was not sufficient to create a reasonable inference that the plaintiff’s injury was caused, more probably than not, by the hospital’s negligence.
If you have been injured on the property of another person or business, you may be able to recover compensation for medical expenses and other losses in a personal injury lawsuit. The Nashville attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard have experience representing individuals in premises liability claims, motor vehicle collision cases, and other accidents caused by negligence. To consult with one of our knowledgeable lawyers regarding your injury, contact Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard by phone at (615) 800-7096 or online and schedule an appointment.