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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.

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TAGS: Evidence, Experts, Tennessee Premises Liability Comments [0]

Tennessee Trial Judges Must Make Findings of Fact and State Legal Basis for Summary Judgment Before Instructing Party to Prepare Order

Posted on Jan 3 2016 4:03PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision dealt with a case where a Trial Judge granted Summary Judgment on behalf of a defendant and instructed the parties to prepare an Order without first making any findings of fact or providing a legal basis for the Court’s decision.  The case of Bobby McEarl v. City of Brownsville, No. W2015-00077-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 6773544 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015) was a premises liability case where the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.  However, the Court did not explain its ruling.  Instead, the Court simply stated “I don’t think – I don’t think the city is responsible here. I am granting the defendant’s motion.”  The trial court then instructed the parties to prepare competing orders for the court to review.  The Court ultimately adopted an order granting summary judgment for various reasons.


The question on appeal was whether this method for deciding a motion for summary judgment was appropriate under Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 56.04.  This rule provides as follows:


The motion shall be served at least thirty (30) days before the time fixed for the hearing. The adverse party may serve and file opposing affidavits not later than five days before the hearing. Subject to the moving party’s compliance with Rule 56.03, the judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The trial court shall state the legal grounds upon which the court denies or grants the motion, which shall be included in the order reflecting the court's ruling. A summary judgment, interlocutory in character, may be rendered on the issue of liability alone although there is a genuine issue as to the amount of damages. 


Additionally, the Tennessee Supreme Court rendered a decision in 2014 discussing this rule of civil procedure in the Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc., 439 S.W.3d 303 (Tenn. 2014) decision. The Tennessee Supreme Court provided direction to Tennessee trial courts that they are required to state the legal grounds upon which the Court denies or grants a motion for summary judgment. This is a mandatory requirement. 


As a result, the Tennessee Court of Appeals in the McEarl case found the trial court’s grant of summary judgment must be vacated and the cas...

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TAGS: Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment Comments [0]

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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Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com