No Duty, No Recovery

Following last week’s theme of “let’s sue”, another recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case reinforces why pre-lawsuit and risk mitigation advice are important. In Boykin v. The George P. Morehead Living Trust, the Plaintiff tripped and fell on a concrete landing in a parking lot while returning to his vehicle. Unfortunately, the Plaintiff got hurt. He sued the parking lot owner for his injuries alleging that the owner, “was negligent in maintaining and failing to correct the dangerous condition of the concrete landing, i.e., the four-inch height difference on the right side of the concrete landing.” In addition to his own testimony, the Plaintiff presented photographs of the parking lot on the day of the fall and the testimony of contractor who stated that the parking lot was not flush with the concrete landing.
The Court, however, found that the Plaintiff’s claim did not survive the parking lot owner’s Motion for Summary Judgment (i.e. to dismiss the case as a matter of law before a Jury hears the case). In its Motion, the Defendant successfully argued that it did not owe a duty to the Plaintiff.
Elaborating a bit further, the Court of Appeals concluded that the Plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence to “demonstrate that the height [differential] between the concrete parking landing and the parking lot was a dangerous or defective condition…[and that] [f]or a jury to conclude that the height differential was dangerous or defective would require speculation, conjecture, and guesswork.” Further, the Court noted that the Plaintiff “admitted that, if he had looked down where he was walking, he would have seen the height difference and avoided the fall.” Ultimately, the Court found the Defendant not liable to the Plaintiff.
Understanding when and under what circumstances a duty arises is important before pursuing litigation. In the absence of a duty, there cannot be a successful negligence claim. Further, landowners should read this case and be reminded that although liability was not found under these facts, a landowner – especially one who invites the public to visit – must maintain the property in a reasonably safe manner, free from both known defects and those defects the landowner should have known about had the landowner exercised reasonable diligence. From a practical standpoint, landowners should also talk with their insurance agents to make sure that there is adequate premises liability coverage in place.

Boykin v. The George P. Morehead Living Trust, No. M2014-00575-COA-R3-CV, (Tenn. Ct. App. May 29, 2015).