Can Holiday Decorations Create a “Dangerous Condition” Under Tennessee Law?
A personal injury claim based on premises liability generally hinges on whether or not there was a “dangerous condition” the property owner knew about and failed to correct, to the detriment of the injured plaintiff. Sometimes a dangerous condition is easily defined. But other cases require courts to make judgment calls on what a “reasonable” person would consider dangerous based on all available facts.
Court Rejects Elderly Plaintiff’s Lawsuit Against Restaurant
For example, could poorly placed Christmas decorations at a business create a dangerous condition for customers? The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed that question. The plaintiff here is a woman in her seventies who suffered serious injuries after falling at a Mexican restaurant.
The plaintiff attended a party at the restaurant. Upon leaving the party she had to go down a staircase from the second floor to the first floor of the restaurant. The staircase had been decorated with garland and Christmas lights for the holiday season.
As she descended the stairs, the plaintiff needed to grab the handrail to steady her balance. When she did so, she actually grabbed the garland decoration instead and fell. The fall broke her leg and eventually required surgery.
The plaintiff sued the owner of the restaurant, alleging the use of Christmas decorations on the stairway handrail constituted a dangerous condition. During pretrial discovery, the restaurant owner testified he had used similar decorations on the stairway handrail for 15 years without incident until the plaintiff’s accident.
The owner moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The judge determined the “decorated handrail did not constitute a dangerous or defective condition for purposes of premises liability.” The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision, rejecting an appeal from the plaintiff.
The appeals court cited the “undisputed” fact there had not been any prior accident at the restaurant due to the decorated handrail. In Tennessee, a business owner is only liable if there is a “foreseeable” risk of harm to consumers. Here, the court said there was no reason, based on past experience, for the restaurant owner to assume the garland on the handrail posed any safety risk.
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Premises liability claims are often this highly fact-specific. What constitutes a dangerous condition in one case may not in another. In this case, the plaintiff’s argument suffered because she could not point to any similar incidents involving this restaurant. Nor was there any evidence the decorations violated building codes or any generally accepted safety standards. And the Court of Appeals noted that its own research did not discover any prior case in Tennessee where “the addition of garland or other decorations” was judged to be a dangerous condition.
Every personal injury case raises its own unique set of issues. An experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer can help you investigate the causes of your accident make sure that no stone is left unturned in uncovering the truth. Contact the offices of Fox Farley Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, to schedule a consultation today with one of our qualified accident attorneys.