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TN School Board Not Liable for Middle School Student’s Lunchroom Accident


There are two common elements to any successful premises liability case. The first is that a “dangerous condition” existed on a property owner’s land. The second is that it was “reasonably foreseeable” that this dangerous condition would injure someone if not corrected. If an injured victim can show both of these things, they may be able to hold the premises owner liable for damages.

Conversely, a failure to prove both or either can doom a lawsuit. Take this recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Landry v. Sumner County Board of Education. This case involves an 11-year-old injured during an accident while attending middle school. One morning, the victim and his friends were sitting at a lunchroom table. As the victim got up to go to class, his leg got caught on the strap of his backpack, which unbeknownst to him had become wrapped around the leg of the chair.

Compounding matters, a chair that was still stacked on top of the table from the previous night’s maintenance fell and landed on the victim’s right hand, severing part of one of his fingers. Unfortunately, the finger tip could not be reattached.

The victim’s father subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the county board of education. He alleged that the placement of chairs on top of the table–a common maintenance practice–constituted a dangerous condition that the school board should have known could injure a student. The board disputed this and moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.

The Court of Appeals similarly sided with the school board. The court noted that all parties agreed that a “chair in and of itself could not and does not present an unsafe, dangerous, or defective condition.” The issue here was whether or not stacking the chairs upside-down and on top of the tables was a dangerous condition. Here, the appeals court said the father “did not put forth any proof, expert or otherwise,” on this issue. Furthermore, the board pointed to the fact that the accident was the result of the victim’s backpack getting tied around the leg of his own chair.

But even if the stacked chairs could somehow be read as a dangerous condition, the Court of Appeals said there was also no proof the board could have reasonably foreseen or prevented the victim’s accident. Two school custodians testified there had never been any injuries arising from the chairs prior to the victim’s accident. Indeed, the child himself similarly testified what happened was an accident and not the result of any negligent act by the school board. Accordingly, the appeals court said the father’s lawsuit lacked merit.

Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer Today

It is natural to want to allocate fault when our child is seriously injured in an accident. But you need to be cognizant of how the law actually works in this area and what it requires of a plaintiff in a lawsuit. If you need advice or representation from an experienced Knoxville personal injury attorney, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, today to schedule a free consultation.




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