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Federal District Court Denies Summary Judgment to Tennessee Sporting Goods Store After Customer Falls in Parking Lot

Not every lawsuit is concluded by a jury’s verdict in favor of one party or another. While many cases are settled through an agreement between the parties, some are resolved via a legal proceeding known as a “motion for summary judgment.”

When a defendant files such a motion in a negligence case, including an East Tennessee slip and fall case, the argument is that, even if all of the factual disputes are resolved in the plaintiff’s favor, the defendant cannot be held liable. There is judicial economy in motions for summary judgment in that a case is resolved without the need for a jury to determine factual disagreements; however, a motion can only be granted if the opposing party could not win his or her case even if the jury found all of the factual disputes in his or her favor.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal case, the plaintiff was a woman who was allegedly injured after falling on a “concrete parking stop” in the defendant sporting goods store’s parking lot in Kodak, Tennessee, on a dark winter night in 2014. The plaintiff’s husband joined in the lawsuit (which was originally filed in the Circuit Court for Sevier County but removed to federal court), presumably to assert a claim for loss of consortium. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.

Decision of the Court

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville denied the defendant’s motion. The court first reiterated the familiar rules of summary judgment:  such relief is only proper if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the moving party must establish that no genuine issues of material fact exist, and all inferences are to be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.

In denying the defendant’s request for summary judgment, the court found that there were material issues of fact with respect to whether the defendant’s parking lot was adequately lit at the time of the plaintiff’s fall. Although the defendant presented evidence to the effect that there was a light pole near the area of the fall, the court noted that the defendant did not show that the lights were actually on at the time of the accident.

In so holding, the court noted that, at trial, the jury may or may not believe the plaintiffs’ assertions that there were no lights on and that it was “pitch black.” The jury could also find that the alleged danger was open and obvious or that the plaintiff was, herself, negligent in traversing the area where she fell. However, the court opined that these issues concerning liability, comparative fault, and apportionment should be decided by the jury as the trier-of-fact, rather than by the magistrate judge.

Speak to an Experienced Knoxville Injury Lawyer

Premises liability cases are extremely fact-specific. Two individuals could suffer the same injury in the same store on the same day, and it is possible that the store could be held liable in one case but not in the other. It all depends on how long the dangerous condition existed, whether the store was reasonable in reacting to the danger, and whether the plaintiff took appropriate care for his or her own safety. The Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., routinely handles Knoxville and Maryville premises liability cases, and we would be glad to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. Call us at 865-524-5657 to set up a time to come into our offices, but you should do not delay in seeking legal advice. Claims not filed within the statute of limitations are likely to be dismissed.

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