Woman’s death from fall into glass display case does not constitute premises liability

by Mandy Hicks

When a person is injured on someone else’s property, or when a loved one dies as a result of an accident on another party’s property, there is the possibility of filing a premises liability lawsuit seeking compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

However, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence. Business and landowners are very resistant to a finding of liability and will fight hard for a dismissal of the case if at all possible.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Singletary v. Gatlinburlier, Inc., the plaintiff was a man whose wife died as a result of being impaled after fainting and falling into an antique glass display case located in a store in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The man filed a premises liability lawsuit against the retail store and the mall in which it operated, claiming that their negligence caused his wife’s wrongful death.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, insisting that there were no genuine issues as to the material facts and that, based upon the undisputed facts, they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff replied that a jury should be allowed to determine whether the defendants had a duty to use shatterproof glass in the cabinet and whether the failure to do so was the proximate cause of the deceased person’s death.

The trial court found in the defendants’ favor and awarded them summary judgment.

Decision of the Appellate Court

On appeal to the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville by the plaintiff, the court affirmed. After explaining that the plaintiff would have to prove all of the elements of negligence (duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages) in order to prevail at trial, the court found that, although the defendants did have a duty to exercise reasonable care as to business invitees such as the deceased person, there must be some foreseeability of a particular accident in order for the duty element to be triggered. The court went on to find that the accident that befell the decedent was not one that a reasonable person would have anticipated. Although the defendants knew that the case was not shatterproof, it had been in the store for decades without incident and was similar to the display cases in other similar stores in the area. Furthermore, the defendants did not cause the decedent’s fall and had no way of predicting that she would faint in their store.

To Talk to a Lawyer About Your Fall in a Store 

You should talk to a lawyer about your legal rights if you have been hurt on someone else’s property. There are strict time limits for filing a lawsuit against a negligent landowner, and a failure to timely file suit will most likely result in your case being dismissed, regardless of its merits. To schedule an appointment with an experienced Tennessee personal injury and wrongful death attorney, call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley at 270-781-6500 today. There is no charge for the initial consultation, and many cases are accepted on a contingency fee arrangement so that you don’t have to pay legal fees upfront. We assist clients throughout Tennessee and Kentucky, including Bowling Green, Morgantown, and Springfield.

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