Expert Testimony Not Required in Standard Tennessee Premises Liability Cases

Posted on Jan 22 2016 4:38PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of Gary Lee Steele v. Primehealth Medical Center, P.C., No. W2015-00056-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 9311846 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015) is an interesting premises liability case that discusses the potential requirement of expert proof for this type of case.  This case involved a slip/trip and fall on the premises of the defendant due to an allegedly defective sidewalk.  The trial court excluded the plaintiff’s expert proof because the plaintiff failed to comply with the trial court’s scheduling order and expert proof was not disclosed during discovery. As a result, the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant because the plaintiff failed to provide expert proof on whether the sidewalk was unreasonably dangerous. 


This case was appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals and that Court took issue with the trial court’s determination that this expert testimony was mandatory.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals discussed the fact that in more and more cases expert testimony is needed due to the complexity of our civilization and the specialization that is present in our society.  However, the Court noted specifically that:


[We] are not aware of any general requirement, established by a court or by the legislature, that expert testimony must be presented in order to prove the existence of a dangerous condition in a premises liability case. As a general rule, no expert testimony is required when a case involves ordinary negligence.


Steele at 6.  There simply is no prior definitive case law on this issue that forces this requirement in this type of case.  The Court went on to note several situations in Tennessee where the Tennessee Supreme Court has found that expert proof is not required including the following:


- Whether a party has sustained a serious mental injury in cases of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

- Whether a construction contractor and the public utility company that hired the contractor were negligent in leaving a ditch open over a weekend of heavy rain.

- Testimony concerning the condition of roads.

- Whether a contractor was negligent in leaving the metal end of a guardrail exposed to approaching traffic.

- To prove a dangerous condition under the GTLA when some competent evidence of a hazard exists.

Steele at 6.  As a result, the Court concluded that expert testimony is simply not required in Tennessee to establish whether a sidewalk or wheelchair ramp is unreasonably dangerous.  This is a determination that can be made by a jury without expert proof.  In many cases, having expert proof on an issue can be the best way to present your case to the jury.  However, it is not always required.  There are, however, some situations where it is required such as complicated Healthcare Liability Actions.  


It is of note that the Tennessee Court of Appeals went on to consider whether there was sufficient evidence put forth by the plaintiff to defeat the Motion for Summary Judgment.  The Court concluded there was insufficient evidence in the record and therefore they affirmed the Summary Judgment anyway.


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TAGS: Evidence, Experts, Tennessee Premises Liability
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com