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When Is a Property Owner Liable for Dangerous Conditions?

In any space that is open to the public, such as a retail store or restaurant, the owner has a legal duty to its customers (or “invitees”) to ensure the property is free of any dangerous conditions that it knows about or reasonably should have known about. For example, let’s say there is a puddle of water on the floor of a supermarket aisle. The store manager knew about the puddle but failed to clean it up before a customer slipped on the water and broke her leg. Under these circumstances, the injured customer may have a personal injury claim against the store owner.

Store Not Liable for Fatal Fall Involving Glass Display Case

But not every accident that occurs in a store or other public place gives rise to a viable premises liability claim. Indeed, Tennessee courts have dismissed cases where the victim has suffered much graver injuries than a broken leg. Just recently the Tennessee Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit brought by the grieving widower of a woman who actually died as the result of an accidental fall.

The victim was visiting a tobacco store in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. According to court records, she “unexpectedly fainted and fell into an antique glass display case located in the store.” A piece of the shattered glass then pierced the victim’s chest and severed a key artery, essentially causing her to bleed to death.

The victim’s husband subsequently sued the owner of the tobacco store and several related parties. He alleged the “fragile” glass in the antique display case, coupled with the store’s “narrow or cluttered” aisles constituted a dangerous condition that was the proximate cause of his wife’s accidental death. The store denied the husband’s claims, maintaining it exercised “reasonable care” in maintaining its property.

The courts agreed with the store. A trial judge granted summary judgment to the defendants, noting that “not all accidents, even fatal accidents, are the result of negligence.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s decision.

The Court of Appeals explained that “nothing about the store caused [the victim] to fall.” As for the antique glass, the store owner presented “evidence that the glass had survived many years and many collisions while showing no signs of fragility.” The defendants therefore had no reason to believe that a person who accidentally fell onto the case would suffer serious or fatal injuries. So while the court was “sympathetic to the Plaintiff for the tragic loss of his wife,” he could not hold the store legally liable for her death.

Get Help from a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney

This case illustrates the complexity of bringing a premises liability claim. If you or a family member have been seriously hurt due to a property owner’s negligence, it is important to speak with a qualified Knoxville personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced accident attorney can assist you in identifying the potentially responsible parties and fight for your best interests in court. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville today if you require immediate assistance.

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