The team at Dodson Parker Behm & Capparella, PC shares updates and thoughts on developments in the law.

Premises Liability Case Falls Short

July 1, 2016

Premises liability cases are often difficult, and the recent case of Mooney v. Genuine Parts Company d/b/a National Automotive Assoc illustrates

This premises liability case arose from a plaintiff’s fall at an auto parts store where she was inquiring about a job opening. Plaintiff Carol Mooney visited the NAPA Auto Part in Alamo, Tennessee, to apply for a job but after determining that the position was filled, exited the building 5 to 15 minutes after entering. While walking through the double doorway, Mrs. Mooney lost her balance and fell onto the concrete. Mrs. Mooney and her husband filed suit against the Defendants, Genuine Parts Company d/b/a National Automotive Association, Inc. (“NAPA”) and the property owner, Wayne Climer. Plaintiffs contended that Mrs. Mooney fell due to a three-and-one-half inch drop-off from the level of the interior floor to the level of the exterior concrete surface and that Defendants were negligent in either failing to warn of, or remedy, this dangerous condition.
Defendants moved for summary judgment claiming they had no duty to warn of the drop-off because it was not foreseeable that anyone would fall because of it. In support of their motion for summary judgment, Defendants submitted discovery responses and deposition testimony, including the deposition testimony of the store manager who stated that no individual had fallen in his twenty-six years of employment. Plaintiffs contended that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether Defendants had knowledge of the dangerous condition and a duty to correct the condition or warn Mrs. Mooney of its existence and pointed to Mrs. Mooney’s testimony.

The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants holding that it was not reasonably foreseeable that a normal person would fall walking through the doorway. Plaintiffs appealed.

Plaintiffs argued on appeal that that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment when genuine issues of material fact existed. The Court began by examining the standards involved in premises liability cases set forth in the recent decision Steele v. Primehealth Med. Ctr., No. W2015-00056-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 9311846 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2015), and reviewing decisions in other premises liability cases involving steps or drop-offs. The Court concluded that the evidence presented by Defendants demonstrated that Plaintiffs’ evidence was insufficient to establish the claim for negligence as Defendants’ evidence demonstrated that no unreasonable risk could be anticipated from the three-and-one half inch decline in height at the doorway. The Court then looked to Plaintiffs’ response to Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and concluded that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Defendants had knowledge of a dangerous condition. The Court stated that the “scant evidence presented by Plaintiffs would require a fact finder to speculate in order to find that the condition of the NAPA entryway was dangerous or defective.” Therefore, the Court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of Defendants.
Plaintiffs attempted to rely on the testimony of Mrs. Mooney, and a statement by the manager of twenty-six years that he had stumbled one time. This was just not enough to survive a seemingly increasingly difficult standard for premises liability cases.

This article and more timely developments in Tennessee law are available to subscribers of the Tennessee Tort Law Letter.  For more information, click here.  

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