Dance Party Results in Injuries But No Liability

The Court of Appeals  recently examined potential liability from a deck collapse during a party attended by “a ridiculous amount” of high school students.  The upshot?  It seems like a determination that having lots of people jumping and dancing on a deck doesn’t make it forseeable that the deck could break and hurt people… 

This negligence action arose following a high school party at the residence of Defendants John and Lisa Campbell (“the Campbells”). Plaintiff, Paris Keane, sustained injuries after a deck collapsed at the party when a significant number of high school students were dancing and jumping on the deck. The Complaint filed by Paris Keane and her parents (collectively “the Keanes”) alleged that the Campbells were negligent in allowing the children to dance and jump on the deck for an extended period of time. The Complaint further alleged that the Campbells failed to properly and adequately monitor or supervise the children attending the party, failed to warn the children of the danger they were facing, failed to take any action to prevent the collapse of the deck, failed to prevent the injury to the children, and failed to observe the flexing of the deck.

The Campbells filed an Answer denying liability. Additionally, they filed a Third Party Complaint against The Porch Company, the entity that built the deck. The Campbells subsequently moved for summary judgment, alleging that the Keanes failed to establish the essential element for a negligence claim. Specifically, they asserted that there was no act or omission on their part that constituted negligence or was the proximate cause of the collapse of the deck.

The trial court ruled that the collapse of the deck and the harm suffered by Paris Keane was not foreseeable and that the Campbells were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Specifically, the Court held that it was not foreseeable that having minors on the deck jumping and dancing would cause the deck to “flex” and “collapse,” thereby injuring Paris Keane. The trial court entered its ruling and designated it final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02 as the third party defendant was not dismissed.

Ruling

On appeal, the Court determined the dispositive issue to be whether the trial court erred by summarily dismissing the Keanes’ claim based on the finding that the injuries suffered by Paris Keane were not reasonably foreseeable. The Court further limited the dispositive issue to “whether [the Campbells] could have reasonably foreseen that their deck would collapse, thereby injuring [Paris Keane].”

The Court held that the undisputed evidence asserted in support of the Campbells’ motion for summary judgment established that they had exercised reasonable care and had no notice of any problems with the deck, thereby shifting the burden of production to the Keanes. The Court noted that the Keanes relied on the affidavit of Daniel Bellet, an attendee at the party, who stated that there was a “ridiculous” amount of people  on the deck and it was going “up and down” as people were dancing. The Court noted that the Keanes relied on this affidavit as significant because a layperson recognized the danger, and therefore the Campbells knew or should have known of the probability of a deck collapse. The Court rejected this assertion and upheld the trial court’s dismissal that the incident was not reasonably foreseeable.

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