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Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Trial Court’s Assignment of 25% Fault in Slip and Fall Case to Teacher Who Fell in School Hallway

A Knoxville or Maryville slip and fall accident can cause serious, debilitating injuries. Medical expenses can be considerable, and the plaintiff’s inability to work while he or she recovers can put a family into a financial hardship from which recovery is difficult.

If someone else’s negligence caused the fall, the plaintiff should consider speaking to an attorney about filing a lawsuit seeking compensation for what he or she has been through. As with other personal injury cases, time is of the essence.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate court case, the plaintiff was a middle school teacher employed by the defendant school system. In December 2014, she slipped and fell in the hallway outside her classroom. The floor had been mopped by the school’s custodians, but the teacher, who was in her classroom during the time they were mopping, was unaware that the hallway was wet. Although the custodians placed “wet floor” signs in the hallway, they placed them only on the the left side of the hallway, even though they mopped the entire hallway. At trial, the teacher testified that she did not see the signs.

The teacher sought compensation for her injuries pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Following a bench trial, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County found that the custodians were guilty of negligence and assigned 75% of the fault to the defendant and 25% of the fault to the plaintiff. After reducing the overall damages award by 25% to reflect the plaintiff’s percentage of fault, the trial court entered judgment for $180,000.

The Court’s Decision

On appeal, the defendant argued that it was immune from suit, that it was not negligent, and/or that the plaintiff’s negligence outweighed any negligent attributable to the defendant. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville affirmed in part and reversed in part. After carefully reviewing the record, the court of appeals agreed with the trial court that the defendant was not immune from suit insomuch as the decision of where to place the wet-floor signs was operational in nature, rather than a discretionary or planning function as urged by the defendant.

However, the court of appeals disagreed with the lower tribunal with regard to its assignment of fault between the parties. Noting that one of the factors that courts must consider in assessing comparative negligence is the reasonableness of the party’s conduct in confronting a risk, the court of appeals pointed out that the plaintiff fell almost instantaneously upon exiting her classroom. She was not distracted, and she was walking normally and using reasonable care. Thus, the appellate court found that there was no proof in the record to support the finding that the plaintiff in any way caused or contributed to her injuries. Thus, the appellate court reversed the portion of the lower court’s decision that reduced the plaintiff’s damages award by 25% and remanded the case for entry of a judgment for the total amount of damages to which the trial court had found the plaintiff was entitled.

Schedule an Appointment with an Established East Tennessee Injury Lawyer

If you have suffered serious injuries because of a fall on premises belonging to a business or governmental entity, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for your medical expenses, lost earnings, and other damages. However, it is extremely important that you contact an attorney about your fall as soon as possible, as the burden of proof in on the plaintiff in premises liability cases and evidence not preserved after the fall can easily become subject to spoliation. For an appointment to discuss your case with a Knoxville slip-and-fall attorney, call the Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., at 865-524-5657.

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