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Slip and Fall Cases Under Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act — Traylor v. Shelby County Board of Education

In Tennessee slip and fall cases, knowing the various laws that apply can be crucial to winning a premises liability case. Knoxville and Maryville property owners owe a duty of care to protect lawful entrants on their property from unreasonable risk of harm. However, the type of owner – businesses , private , or government – can invoke different Tennessee laws. If you have been injured by a fall on the property of another, it is important to speak with an experienced local premises liability attorney.

Previous Private Property Case
Previously, we discussed a slip and fall case, Barbaglia v. Nonconnah Holdings, where a lawful entrant slipped on a patch of ice on business property. In order to determine the element of duty, the plaintiff had to show that the property owner caused the hazard, had actual knowledge of the hazard, or had constructive knowledge of the hazard. The court held that news reports of patterns of precipitation and freezing temperatures could provide a property owner with constructive notice of dangerous conditions. However, the same case on government property will invoke others statutes.

Current Case on Government Property
Recently, the Tennessee court of appeals decided on a similar case on government property. In Traylor v. Shelby County Board of Education, news reports had warned of precipitation and freezing temperatures causing a public high school to close for two days, a Monday and Tuesday. During this period, the high school principal and staff worked to clear all walkways of ice. On Wednesday, the school resumed without incident, but on Thursday a student slipped on a patch of ice, breaking his ankle. The student filed a lawsuit against the school for failing to remove the hazardous ice patch.

Since the public high school owned the government property, the claim invoked Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated ยง 29-20-201 (“GTLA”). Under GTLA, Tennessee local governments are immune from negligence lawsuits. Government immunity protects innocent tax payers from having to pay for actions that they did not cause. The school requested sovereign immunity stating it did not have constructive knowledge under GTLA.

Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act
GTLA allows for an exception to legal immunity when (1) the government owns and controls the property where the injury was caused, (2) a dangerous defect or unsafe condition on the property caused the injury, (3) the local government had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition, and (4) the local government breached its duty by not eliminating the hazard or warn of the condition.

When determining constructive notice under GTLA, a court will look to several factors including (1) what created the condition, (2) the length of time the condition existed, (3) and a pattern of conduct, recurring incident, or a generally continuing condition that would indicate notice.

Court’s Ruling
The court, looking at the passage of time between Tuesday when the ice was cleared and Thursday when the injury occurred, stated that the heavy foot traffic by children walking in the area could not support a finding that ice remained during that period of time. The ice would have been formed on Thursday morning. The school principal and staff put prodigious effort into removing ice. All the reports indicate that the ice was black ice and could not be seen. The court ruled that the ice had not been on the walkway for any length of time and the school could not have easily discovered the hazard. Without this constructive knowledge, the school could not be held liable for not removing the patch of ice, and the court dismissed the case.

Slip and fall cases may not seem like a big deal; however, falls can cause serious injury or even death. According to the National Safety Council, slip and fall injuries account for 9 million emergency room injuries. They are the second leading cause of unintentional deaths in homes and communities resulting in more than 25,000 fatalities a year.

Not every property owner considers the potential injuries from slip and falls when they negligently fail to remove snow or ice from their property. If you have been injured by the hazards on another property, you should speak with an experienced premises liability lawyer that understands the laws and can get you the compensation you deserve.

If you have been the victim of someone’s negligence, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.

Additional Resources:
Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, 2014, University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service

Sovereign immunity, 2014, Wikipedia

More Blog Entries:
Duty of Care for Slip and Fall Injuries after Maryville’s Biggest Snow Storm Since ’93 — Barbaglia v. Nonconnah Holdings, LLC., Feb 19, 2013, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

Holidays a Dangerous time for Fall Accidents in Tennessee, Nov. 4, 2012, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog

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