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Custodians’ Neglect Leads to $180,000 Slip-and-Fall Judgment Against TN School District


Perhaps the most common type of slip-and-fall accident involves a person slipping on a wet floor due to a lack of proper warning signs. Such personal injury claims are relatively straightforward. But they may be slightly complicated when the “wet floor” in question belongs to a state or local government entity.

Court Rules Teacher Not At-Fault for Her Accident

The reason for this is that personal injury claims against public bodies are subject to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (TGTLA). The Act permits a victim to sue the government for personal injury, provided the injury did not arise out of the “performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function.” In other words, you cannot sue a government agency or official over their planning or policy-making. But you can sue the government over “operational” decisions, i.e. your injury was the result of an employee failing to follow official policy.

Here is a practical example to illustrate how the law works. This is from a recent decision by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The plaintiff is a teacher injured in a slip-and-fall accident on school grounds.

More precisely, the plaintiff said she exited her classroom and “immediately slipped on the wet floor in the hallway.” A few minutes earlier, school custodians mopped the hallway in question. They place “wet floor” signs on one side of the hallway, but not on the other side where the plaintiff’s classroom was located.

The plaintiff subsequently sued the school district to recover compensation for her injuries. The school argued it was immune from lawsuit under the TGTLA since the custodians’ actions constituted a “discretionary” decision. Furthermore, the district asserted the plaintiff was partially at-fault for failing to notice the “open and obvious” hazard of the wet floor.

The case was tried before a judge without a jury. The trial court held the school district was not immune under the facts of this case, since the custodians actually failed to follow district policy with respect to the placement of “wet floor” signs. However, the judge also said the plaintiff was 25 percent at-fault for failing to look where she stepped. Accordingly, the judge awarded the plaintiff $180,000, less 25 percent to account for her comparative fault.

A divided Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment but reversed the comparative fault finding. The appeals court agreed with the trial judge that “the decision of where to place the wet-floor signs was operational in nature,” and that the custodians’ failure to comply caused the plaintiff’s accident. However, there was “no proof in the record to support a finding by the trial court that [the plaintiff] in any way caused or contributed to her injuries.” To the contrary, the Court of Appeals noted the plaintiff fell “immediately” after stepping out of her classroom. She was therefore entitled to the full $180,000 in damages.

Speak with a Tennessee Premises Liability Attorney Today

It is a common strategy for property owners to try and shift blame for a slip-and-fall accident to the victim. This is why you need to work with an experienced Clinton personal injury lawyer who will aggressively pursue your case. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you have been injured in an accident and require immediate legal assistance.



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