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Summary Judgment Denied

n a recent Knoxville, Tennessee case, the appellate court reversed a trial court’s summary judgment dismissing a premises liability case. The court based its decision upon the possibility of a property owner’s actual or constructive notice of poor lighting. Summary judgment is a procedural device that a party involved in a case may use to dismiss claims or issues. If a court rules in favor of the party requesting a dismissal, the other party is not allowed to present the issue or claim to the the judge or jury.

Winning a motion for dismissal can save our clients considerable time and money by not having to defend claims that are not disputable. However, losing the motion, could mean our client loses their case. At Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C., we take every level and stage of a trial seriously, and we are committed to providing compassionate and aggressive representation in our premises liability cases in order get our clients the compensation they deserve.

A party moving for a summary judgment must prove that there are no issues of material fact. An issue of material fact is what a judge or jury decides on. Basically, by bringing a motion to dismiss, the party is arguing that there is no dispute, and it would be a waste of time and money for a judge or jury to weigh the evidence.
Facts Of The Case — Christian v. Ayers In the Knoxville case, Christian v. Ayers, the plaintiff claimed inadequate lighting in a parking lot caused her to break her leg in four places. On the day of the incident, the plaintiff went to a meeting held in a lodge on the owner’s property. When the plaintiff went into the lodge, the natural light allowed the plaintiff to see the parking lot. After the meeting the sun had gone down, and the parking lot was no longer visible. The plaintiff had to use her key fob to locate her car in the dark. When walking to her car, the plaintiff stepped into a hole or a drop-off and fractured her leg in four places, which caused medical expenses in excess of fifty thousand dollars.

The next day it was determined that the parking lot had been dark because the lot lights had burned out. The Plaintiff brought a premises liability claim against the owner of the lodge for failing in his duty of care to provide adequate lighting.

The property owner brought a motion to dismiss arguing that the owner did not have actual or constructive “notice” of the lights being burned out, to which the trial judge dismissed the case.

Negligence Claim For Premises Liability In a premises liability claim, like other negligence claims, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the property owner had a duty to protect the plaintiff, (2) the conduct by the owner fell below the standard of care amounting to a breach of that duty, (3) the plaintiff had been injured, (4) the breach of the duty actually caused the injury, and (4) the breach of duty proximately caused the injury.

Beyond the standard negligence elements, in a premises liability claim, the plaintiff must also prove that (1) the dangerous condition was caused or created by the owner, or (2) if the condition was created by someone or something else, the owner had actual or constructive notice that the condition existed.

Constructive notice, can be proven by showing that a property owner (1) created the condition; (2) the condition existed for a period of time that an owner exercising reasonable care would have noticed; or (3) the owner’s pattern of conduct, a recurring incident, or a general continuing condition caused the hazardous condition.

The Court’s Decision — Christian v. Ayers Tennessee court precedent holds that an owner has a duty to provide adequate lighting. See Heggs v. Wilson Inn Nashville-Elm Hill, Inc.

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