Court of Appeals Opinion Gives Guidance on Slip and Fall Cases

The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals opinion in Brown v. Mercer-Defriese  provides an excellent outline for proof to be presented in a premises liability action involving allegations of an unreasonably dangerous step.

Nancy Brown, was at a rental property owned by Nancy Mercer-Defriese and Spencer Defriese, viewing the property as a prospective tenant. She tripped over a three-inch “step” or “threshold,” and as a result suffered serious injuries including a broken hip and femur. She then filed a premises liability action, alleging that the step was an unreasonably dangerous and defective condition that caused her to fall.

A jury trial occurred. Plaintiff presented her own testimony and the testimony of a professional engineer, Clarkson Lee Mason. In addition to their own testimony, Defendants presented the testimony of Tim Dodd, a professional engineer, and Dallas Y. Rucker, the building official for the City of Chattanooga.

At the close of the proof, Defendants moved for a directed verdict, which the trial court granted. The trial court found that it was not reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances that Plaintiff would trip over the step and further found that the condition of the step was open and obvious and should have been seen by Plaintiff. Lastly, the trial court found that there was no duty to warn the Plaintiff of the condition of the step.  Ms. Brown appealed.

Ruling:

The sole issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict for the Defendants. The Court characterized the “fundamental” issue as whether Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence from which a juror could reasonably find that the step was unreasonably dangerous or defective. The Court held that Plaintiff did submit such evidence. [Read more…]