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TN Hospital Not Liable for Defective Door That Injured 71-Year-Old Patient


When you walk into any kind of public facility, such as a store or even a government office, you have the right to expect the premises are in a reasonably safe condition. Legally speaking, a premises owner is not necessarily responsible for every customer who is injured, but there may be liability if there is a known hazard that the owner failed to correct in a timely manner. But the burden is on the victim, in pursuing a personal injury claim, to prove this.

Appeals Court Divided on Immunity, Liability

Establishing premises liability is especially tricky when dealing with publicly owned property. Tennessee law exempts state and municipal agencies from personal injury claims except under very specific circumstances. And even when it is impossible to waive this “sovereign immunity,” a victim may still be unable to establish causation to the court’s satisfaction.

Consider this recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The plaintiff in this case, a 71-year-old woman, went to a hospital in Hamilton County for a doctor’s appointment. While waiting in the hospital’s lobby for her ride home, an unidentified person swung open an interior door, knocking the plaintiff to the ground.

The plaintiff later said she never saw the door prior to her accident. A former hospital employee later testified in court that this was an “odd door” in that it was possible for someone to “push that door out” without realizing “someone is standing on the other side.” This employee said he that “routinely” reported issues to management regarding the door hitting people. And there was no signage warning anyone standing in the same position as the plaintiff that the interior door could hit them.

The plaintiff sued the hospital for negligence. The case was tried before a judge without a jury. In a written opinion, the judge ruled in favor of the hospital, holding “there was no evidence that the location of the door constituted a defective design and no evidence that the door itself was defective.” Nor could the plaintiff prove that the lack of any warning signs caused her accident and resulting injuries.

Reviewing the trial court’s ruling, the majority of a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals went a step further and said the plaintiff’s lawsuit should have been barred by sovereign immunity. A public entity such as the hospital can only be sued if there is proof of a “dangerous or defective condition” that caused injury. Here, the appeals court agreed with the trial court the door did was not “dangerous or defective.” Therefore the hospital’s legal immunity remained intact.

One judge dissented. Judge John W. McClarty wrote separately to say, “I think the hospital is liable for this injury and the plaintiff should prevail.” McClarty cited testimony from multiple hospital employees, including the one mentioned above, establishing the door that hit the plaintiff was a known “dangerous condition.” Furthermore, the evidence presented at trial “supports the conclusion that the accident would have been avoided with the existence of a warning sign or a glass window,” which was sufficient to prove causation.

A Knoxville Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You

Cases like this illustrate how premises liability and other personal injury cases are often a close call for judges and juries. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Pigeon Forge personal injury attorney who knows how to fight–and win–these types of cases. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, at 866-862-4855 if you have been injured in any kind of accident and require immediate legal assistance.



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