By Christopher M. Myatt

Landrum v. Methodist Med. Ctr., No. E2015-01733-COA-R3-CV
(Tenn. Ct. App. Jul. 25, 2016)

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently affirmed summary judgment for a hospital in a premises liability case involving a slip and fall by a guest. The Plaintiff was visiting her mother, a patient at Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After leaving her mother’s room, Plaintiff slipped and fell in a puddle of water near the nurse’s station and sustained injuries. Plaintiff filed suit against the hospital claiming that its employees knew or should have known of the dangerous condition created by the puddle of water and were thus liable for her injuries. The hospital denied liability and eventually moved for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiff could not, as a matter of law, establish notice of the dangerous condition. Plaintiff had no evidence concerning the source of the puddle or how long it had been on the floor. Two hospital employees were at the nurse’s station at the time of the plaintiff’s fall. They testified that they had no knowledge of the water on the floor. The plaintiff herself had walked past the area of her fall only 15 minutes before she fell and stated that there was nothing present on the floor at that time.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals, in a brief opinion, affirmed summary judgment for the hospital, holding that Plaintiff could not, as a matter of law, establish that the hospital had constructive notice of the dangerous condition. Constructive notice is “information or knowledge of a fact imputed by law to a person (although he may not actually have it), because he could have discovered the fact by proper diligence, and his situation was such as to cast upon him the duty of inquiring into it.”  To establish constructive notice, a plaintiff must show that the dangerous condition at issue: (1) was caused or created by the defendant; (2) was not caused or created by the defendant but existed long enough such that the defendant should have become aware of it; or (3) was caused by a pattern of conduct, recurring incident or general continuing condition. The Court of Appeals, in viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff as required under the applicable standard of review, found that there was no proof in the record that could even potentially establish that the hospital had constructive notice of the puddle that caused Plaintiff’s fall. The case was dismissed.

The facts of this case are noteworthy from the standpoint that the puddle was located in a high-traffic area where hospital employees and others arguably would or should have seen it before Plaintiff’s fall. At times, trial courts emphasize the mere location of a spill or other allegedly dangerous condition in a high-traffic area to deny summary judgment. The thinking goes that a spill in a high-traffic area, by itself, means that a premises owner should have discovered the condition. This case contradicts that line of reasoning and reiterates that a plaintiff must establish constructive notice regardless of the location of the dangerous condition.

 

Chris is a partner in Spicer Rudstrom’s Memphis office. His practice is concentrated primarily in the areas of premises liability, business and commercial representation, products liability and insurance coverage.