Proof Required in Slip, Trip and Fall Cases in Tennessee
Basic elements for proving a slip, trip or fall case in Tennessee.
Elements of a Premises Liability ClaimIn order for a Plaintiff to succeed in proving his/her claim against a property owner or occupier, the Plaintiff must prove all of the following:
1) An unsafe or unreasonably dangerous condition;
2) Notice of the unsafe condition on the part of the property owner prior to the injury; and
3) Negligence on the part of the property owner/occupier.
Unsafe ConditionsThe first element to prove in a Plaintiff's case is the existence of an unsafe condition. This can be as simple as a wet floor, pothole, or uneven sidewalk, or it can be as complicated as some defective walkway or fixture which requires expert witnesses to explain the unsafe condition.
It is imperative that a Plaintiff be able to show what caused them to fall. If a plaintiff cannot show that a condition caused their fall, then their case is very likely to fail. Even after showing a condition caused a person to fall, the Plaintiff must show that the condition is unsafe or unreasonably dangerous.
For example, a standard height curb that is well lit and marked is not unsafe merely because a person trips on it. Likewise, a painted and well marked ramp can be unsafe if the paint does not have proper abrasives and is slippery when wet.
Notice of Unsafe ConditionsNotice can be proven through three methods.
The first, and most direct, is proof that the property owner/occupier actually knew about the condition prior to the fall. A spill in a store that the employees knew about but did not clean up is an example.
The second type of notice is called "constructive notice." Evidence of this type of notice comes from the nature and/or length of time the condition was present on the property. A pothole which forms over several weeks should be noticed by a property owner/occupier if the owner/occupier is conducting proper safety inspections of its property. Evidence that a spill has been present in an aisle for more than thirty minutes can also constitute constructive notice.
The third type is similar to actual notice and is where the owner/occupier created the condition. For instance, a store that mops the floor while customers are present creates the unsafe condition of the slippery floor. You need not show actual or constructive notice of the condition if the store was the one who created it.
NegligenceIn general, Negligence is the breach of a legal duty which causes someone harm. In the context of a slip, trip or fall case, the duties are those of property owners/occupiers. These duties include:
Duty to maintain property in a safe condition.
Duty to inspect property to discover unsafe conditions.
Duty to remove or repair unsafe conditions that can be removed or repaired.
Duty to warn against unsafe conditions which, as a practical matter, cannot be removed or repaired.
Therefore, in addition to proving the existence of an unsafe condition that the owner/occupier knew about, the Plaintiff will also have to prove that the property owner/occupier breached one of these duties.
Showing that a property owner mopped its store while customers present and resulted in someone slipping and falling and suffering injuries can satisfy all of these elements. The mopped floor is unsafe. It was created by the property owner. Creating a slippery floor while customers are present breaches the duty to maintain one's property in a safe condition. The breach caused someone to fall and get hurt.
SummaryRemember that these are simply the basic elements of a slip, trip or fall case in Tennessee. There are other defenses which may apply which could prevent a Plaintiff from being able to present a successful claim. Some property owners have immunity from suit and some activities create immunity as well.
Consultation with a competent attorney who is very familiar with the many laws applicable in premises liability cases is important.