A person who has been injured in an accident caused by the carelessness of another person, entity, or business may be able to sue them for damages in a negligence claim. In a February 22, 2018 decision, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed a Tennessee premises liability case based on negligence. The case was filed by a plaintiff who was injured at a bulk waste disposal center, which was owned and operated by the defendant, a local government.
The disposal center where the injury occurred was undergoing renovations at the time the plaintiff visited. A worker directed the plaintiff to an upper platform to dispose of his trash in a certain bin. As the plaintiff stepped out of his truck and moved to access the back of it, he stepped through a 15-inch drainage hole and fell five feet to the lower platform. The plaintiff brought suit against the metro government under the Governmental Tort Liability Act.
After a bench trial, the court found that the metro government breached its duties and was at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries, but the plaintiff was also at fault in failing to notice the drainage cut that caused his fall. The trial court apportioned 80 percent of the fault to the metropolitan government and 20 percent to the plaintiff. The plaintiff was therefore awarded damages for his injuries.
Tennessee follows a system of comparative fault. Accordingly, if both parties are negligent, and their negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries, the court must determine the percentage of negligence attributable to each party. In order to recover damages, the plaintiff must be less than 50 percent at fault, and he may then recover only the portion of the damages that were not caused by his own negligence.
On appeal, the government put forth several arguments that the plaintiff was at least 50 percent at fault for his injuries. The government asserted that the plaintiff should have exercised heightened care for his own safety since the center was a location in which large appliances and heavy materials were dropped off, there were general warning signs, and the plaintiff was on a high platform at the time of the accident. In addressing the argument, the appeals court explained that a person’s degree of negligence, if any, depends upon all of the surrounding circumstances. Generally, it is not negligence for a citizen to fail to look for a danger that, under the surrounding circumstances, he had no reason to apprehend.
The appeals court went on to find that, since the metro government was overseeing the renovations and construction of the drainage cuts, it was in the best position to prevent harm to others and had a duty to repair or remove the unsafe condition on its property. Metro, however, failed to take reasonable precautions to protect anyone from the hazard, such as placing a cover over the drainage holes, painting them with yellow safety paint, or putting up specific signage about the holes. After considering and rejecting these arguments, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s allocation of 20 percent of the fault to the plaintiff and 80 percent to the government.
At Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, our Nashville premises liability attorneys have successfully represented victims of negligence in taking legal action for their injuries. Contact our office by phone at (615) 800-7096 or online and arrange a free consultation to discuss your case.