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Fox Farley Willis & Burnette Attorneys At Law
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When “Common Sense” Is Not Enough to Legally Prove How an Accident Occurred


“Common sense” is not always compatible with Tennessee personal injury law. What we mean by that is you might be able to look at a given situation, say a car accident, and decide you know what must have happened based on your personal knowledge and experience. But when a case is tried in an actual court, the judge or jury need to see evidence linking the plaintiff’s injury to the defendant’s action. “Common sense” simply won’t cut it in most cases.

TN Court of Appeals Rejects Widow’s Lawsuit Over Husband’s Fatal Fall from Roof

Here is an example of what we’re talking about. In a recent decision, Puller v. Roney, the Tennessee Court of Appeals rejected a personal injury claim filed by the widow of a man who was killed after falling off a roof. The widow insisted the accident must have been the result of a defective ladder owned by the defendant. But nobody witnessed the accident, and without more concrete evidence tying the defendant’s actions to the fall, both the trial court and the Court of Appeals ruled the widow’s lawsuit must be dismissed.

Here are some additional details. The deceased worked as a handyman. He regularly provided services to the defendant, which included checking the roof annually and clearing it of any debris. This is what the deceased was doing on the day of June 8, 2015, when the fatal accident took place.

The widow said she called her husband that afternoon around 1:30 p.m. He told her he was on the defendant’s roof “cleaning the gutters and blowing it off.” A short time later, the defendant’s housekeeper found the deceased “lying on the patio unconscious apparently from a head injury,” according to the Court of Appeals. There was a ladder and a leaf-blower also lying on the ground.

Before the trial court, the defendant testified that she knew that one of the hooks on the ladder–which belonged to her, not the deceased–was “off.” She also acknowledged the ladder itself was approximately 40 years old. And while the deceased normally brought his own ladder, on the day of the accident he decided to use the defendant’s ladder instead without her knowledge.

The widow argued the defendant was still negligent in “furnishing the ladder and failing to warn” her husband of “its defective condition.” But as the Court of Appeals explained, there was no evidence before the trial court proving a defect in the ladder caused the fall. Indeed, the “precise cause of the injury is unknown because no one witnessed the accident.” Nor did the widow introduce any expert or photographic evidence “regarding the condition and the position of the ladder at the time of the accident” that would have assisted the trial court in reconstructing what happened.

And even if common-sense dictated it must have been the ladder that caused the fall, the appeals court noted the widow “cannot show the ladder was under the control of the defendant at the pertinent time,” which was necessary to prove negligence under Tennessee law.

Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Today

A fatal accident may have many possible causes. It is critical to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer to assist you with investigating such accidents thoroughly before proceeding with a lawsuit. If you have lost a loved one due to possible third-party negligence and need advice on how to proceed, contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, today.


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