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Hannah v. Sherwood Forest Rentals, LLC

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 17, 2014


Session Date October 2, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sevier County No. 2011-0600-IV O. Duane Slone, Judge

H. Franklin Chancey, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellant, Brenda Y. Hannah.

Kenneth W. Ward, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Sherwood Forest Rentals, LLC d/b/a Sherwood Forest Resort; Mary Ruth Hovell; and Charles M. Hovell.

Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and D. Michael Swiney, J., joined.



The plaintiff, Brenda Y. Hannah, lodged at a cabin managed by the defendant, Sherwood Forest Rentals, LLC ("Sherwood"), for a pre-wedding event for Ms. Hannah's daughter on October 9, 2010. This cabin was owned by Charles and Mary Ruth Hovell but managed and maintained by Sherwood. A lengthy set of stairs served as the only means of ingress and egress for the cabin. Ms. Hannah's daughters and niece arrived at the cabin on October 8, 2010, experiencing no problems with the stairs. Ms. Hannah and her sister arrived at the cabin after dark on October 9, 2010, and ascended the stairs to enter the cabin with no difficulty. When Ms. Hannah and her sister returned to the car to retrieve their belongings and were in the process of descending the stairs, Ms. Hannah sustained a fall. Ms. Hannah stated that she reached a step below halfway down and "it was like the bottom fell out." According to Ms. Hannah, it felt as though "there was nothing there all of a sudden."

Ms. Hannah suffered injuries to both feet and ankles and was unable to walk. Family members joined to carry her into the cabin. The next morning, the family inspected the stairs and discovered a few steps that allegedly had improperly seated nails fastening the top of the step. The family also discovered that one of these steps allegedly "flipped" or "rocked" forward when stepped on in a certain spot, due to missing or improperly seated nails. Ms. Hannah's daughter and sister described having observed the step move up and down. According to Ms. Hannah's sister, at least three steps manifested nails protruding two to two and one-half inches from the top of the step. Photographs of the steps taken at the time and showing protruding nails were subsequently made exhibits in the trial court record.

Ms. Hannah's sister reported the condition of the stairs to Sherwood the morning after the accident. Sherwood's manager, Susan Bailey, visited the cabin before Ms. Hannah's departure that morning and prepared a report. Ms. Bailey allegedly informed Ms. Hannah and her family that she would have maintenance repair the steps. Ms. Hannah proceeded to the hospital and was diagnosed with a fracture requiring surgery in her right foot. In addition, Ms. Hannah's left ankle was severely sprained.

Ms. Hannah filed the instant action on September 8, 2011, against Sherwood and the Hovells.[1] The defendants subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that Ms. Hannah could not prove that a dangerous condition existed at the time of the injury or that they had notice of such a condition if it did exist. In support of the motion, the defendants filed an affidavit by Ms. Bailey, stating that she had inspected the steps on October 10, 2010, and found nothing wrong. Ms. Bailey also stated that there had been no prior or subsequent reports of any problems with the stairs. According to Ms. Bailey's affidavit, when the cabin was cleaned by Sherwood's housekeeping staff prior to the Hannah family checking in, no one identified any problem with the stairs. She noted that the housekeeping staff is trained to identify and report any such maintenance concerns. Ms. Bailey also reported that Sherwood's maintenance staff had inspected the cabin at least once per month prior to the injury and that no problem had been detected.

Mr. and Ms. Hovell likewise filed affidavits stating that there had been no problem with the stairs noted prior to Ms. Hannah's fall. The Hovells added that they likewise had found no problems during their periodic visits to and inspections of the cabin.

The trial court conducted a hearing on the summary judgment motion on November 22, 2013, and granted judgment to the defendants. The trial court found that there were no genuine issues of material fact by which a reasonable jury could find that either Sherwood or the Hovells had actual or constructive notice of any allegedly defective condition existing that caused or contributed to Ms. Hannah's fall. Ms. Hannah has appealed.

II. Issue Presented

Ms. Hannah's brief does not contain a statement of the issues as required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27. As this Court stated in Word v. Word, 937 S.W.2d 931, 932-33 n.1 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996), although such a deficiency constitutes a "serious violation[] of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, " this Court has the discretion to consider the matters raised by Ms. Hannah in her brief if it chooses to do so. Accordingly, we will, in our discretion, consider Ms. Hannah's argument that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendants.

III. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

For actions initiated on or after July 1, 2011, such as the one at bar, the standard of review for summary judgment delineated in Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-16-101 (Supp. 2013) applies. See Sykes v. Chattanooga Hous. ...

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