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How Comparative Fault Affects Your Personal Injury Claim

Tennessee applies a comparative fault rule in personal injury cases. This means that if the plaintiff is “at least 50 percent” at fault for the underlying accident or injury, the defendant is not liable for any damages. Determining a plaintiff’s fault is therefore a key issue in many personal injury lawsuits.

Cabin Owner May Be Tried Over Short Driveway Rail

Here is a recent Tennessee case that illustrates how courts apply the comparative fault rule. This is a common type of personal injury claim known as a “slip and fall.” The plaintiffs rented a cabin in Sevier County, Tennessee, owned and managed by the defendants.

The driveway in front of the cabin was split between a lower level and an elevated upper level. A black railing bordered a portion of the upper level. But the railing did not cover the full length of the upper level.

On the day in question, the plaintiff was buckling her granddaughter into her car. When she backed out of the car, the plaintiff fell off the upper level and injured her right arm. She subsequently sued the defendants, alleging they were negligent in not constructing the railing to go the full length of the upper level.

The defendants maintained the plaintiff was at least 50 percent at fault, as she was well aware of the short rail and the drop-off between the upper and lower levels of the driveway. In premises liability case such as this, a plaintiff may be held partially liable for injuries caused due to an “open and obvious hazard” that is not actively concealed by the defendant. The trial judge agreed with the defendants’ interpretation of the facts and granted them summary judgment.

But the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding summary judgment was premature. While the appeals court agreed the plaintiff was well aware of the “risk of possibly falling from the elevated parking level,” that did not by itself relieve defendants of their “duty of care.” Indeed, the Court of Appeals noted the defendants’ “protestations that [the plaintiff] knew of the obvious risk argues too much.” The defendants basically admitted there was an “obvious danger” to their guests, and Tennessee law does not absolve a property owner from liability just because the plaintiff knew the danger existed beforehand.

At this stage of the case, it was enough for the plaintiff to allege the defendants could have prevented the accident by extending the rail the full length of the driveway’s upper level. The appeals court said there was “little doubt” the defendants could have extended the rail. Whether or not this makes the defendants more than 50 percent responsible for the plaintiff’s injury is a question for a jury to answer.

Need Help From a Tennessee Premises Liability Attorney?

Even a simple slip-and-fall case can require months, even years, of litigation. An experienced Knoxville personal injury attorney can help ensure you get your day in court. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, to speak with a Clinton accident lawyer today.



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