Session April 24, 2014
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sumner County No. 83CC12011CV1121 C.L. Rogers, Judge.
Luvell L. Glanton and Timothy T. Ishii, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Beverly Meadow.
C. Benton Patton, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, D & G Limited Assortment, Inc.
Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, J.J., joined.
FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., JUDGE.
Beverly Meadow was injured on August 31, 2011, when the automatic sliding glass door at the entrance of the Save-A-Lot grocery store in Millersville, Tennessee, closed while she was in its path. She suffered a broken femur and other injuries as a result of the incident and underwent surgery the following day.
In September 2011, Ms. Meadow commenced this premises liability action against the owner and operator of the store, D&G Ltd. Assortments, Inc. d/b/a Save-A-Lot ("the defendant"). D&G is owned by David Johnson and his wife. Mr. Johnson has been the store manager and his daughter, Shelley Johnson, has been the assistant manager since D&G purchased the store in 1995.
In her complaint, Ms. Meadow alleged, inter alia, that the defendant was under a duty to reasonably inspect the automatic door, that it failed to properly inspect and maintain the automatic door in compliance with industry standards and the owner's manual, and as a direct result of the defendant's negligence she was injured.
A three-day jury trial proceeded in June 2013 and the witnesses included Ms. Meadow; Ms. Meadow's grandson who was with her when the incident occurred; David and Shelley Johnson; the store cashier, Scarlet Brown; and Ms. Meadow's expert witness in automatic door accident investigation, Dr. Warren F. Davis, Ph.D.
It was undisputed that Ms. Meadow was a regular customer of the store and that she was injured while exiting the store through the automatic sliding door. For purposes of the dispositive issue on appeal, whether the defendant had constructive notice of the dangerous and defective condition, what was disputed was whether the defendant should have known prior to the incident that the automatic door sensors were not functioning properly.
The automatic sliding door at issue, Stanley Access Technologies model Dura-Glide 2000, was installed in 2009 by trained Stanley technicians. At the time of installation, David and Shelley Johnson were instructed how to "walk-test" the door for safety. They were also given the Owner's Manual for Dura-Glide Automatic Sliding Door Systems; however, David and Shelley Johnson both testified that they never read the manual. They also testified that the door was never inspected nor serviced prior to the incident.
The Owner's Manual was introduced into evidence at trial, and it was a focal point when David and Shelley Johnson were questioned regarding the warnings and recommendations for daily safety checks and annual safety inspections by trained technicians. The first page provided a warning that injury or property damage could result from: a failure to perform daily inspections using the safety checklist, a failure to have the door adjusted if necessary, and a failure to have the door inspected at least annually by a trained technician. The safety checklist referenced in this warning was located on page 12 of the manual, and the checklist was also printed on a bright yellow decal secured to the door next to the lock. The checklist detailed a specific process for properly conducting daily safety checks of the numerous sensors; specifically, the Stan-Guard presence sensor and the hold-open beams, which are located in different positions on the door and perform different functions.
Ms. Meadow's expert witness, Dr. Davis, testified extensively about how the door operates and its safety features including the motion and presence sensors on the door. He discussed the Owner's Manual in detail, explaining the importance of the daily safety checks, how to properly conduct a safety check of the sensors, and their respective purposes. Dr. Davis testified that the Dura-Glide 2000 was equipped with two types of presence sensors designed to detect the presence of a person in the door-closing path, a Stan-Guard and a hold-open beam; he also discussed the "hold-open time delay" that keeps the door open for a predetermined amount of time regardless of whether a person is in its path. Based on his review of the testimony of Ms. Meadow and her grandson concerning how the door closed on Ms. Meadow while she was in their path, the defendant's failure to properly conduct daily safety checks, and the defendant's failure to have the door inspected or maintained annually, it was Dr. Davis' opinion that the immediate cause of the door's malfunction was the failure of its presence-sensing capability. Had the presence sensors been operating properly, the door would have either been triggered to remain open, or in the event that the door had started to close, it would have been triggered to ...