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Woodgett v. Vaughan

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 13, 2016

CHARLESAN WOODGETT, ET AL.
v.
JOHN R. VAUGHAN, JR., ET AL.

          Session November 16, 2016

         Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Maury County No. 14898 Robert L. Jones, Judge

         This appeal arises from a jury trial. The plaintiff filed a premises liability suit against the defendant-homeowners after she allegedly fell and sustained injuries while viewing the defendants' home as a prospective buyer. After a two-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant-homeowners, finding that they were not at fault for the plaintiff's injuries. The plaintiff raises numerous issues on appeal. We affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed and Remanded

          Terry Renease Clayton, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Charlesan Woodgett, individually and as Administrator ad Litem for Reginald Woodgett, deceased.

          Patrick Arnold Flynn and Seth Michael Lasater, Columbia, Tennessee, for the appellees, John R. Vaughan, Jr. and Hilda Vaughan.

          Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., joined.

          OPINION

          BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         John and Hilda Vaughan ("the Vaughans") owned a home in Maury County, Tennessee and listed it for sale with a realtor. The Vaughans moved out of the home and removed all of their belongings. Reginald and Charlesan Woodgett were interested in the home and contacted the listing realtor to inquire about viewing it. Mr. Woodgett was himself a realtor, so the listing realtor allowed the Woodgetts to view the home themselves without accompanying them.

         During the viewing, Mrs. Woodgett allegedly fell and sustained injuries while traversing down a step that provided access to an area of the attic. The attic doorway was located in the wall of an upstairs bonus room. Below the doorway was a large landing or platform that was raised 16.5 inches off the floor and measured 52 inches wide by 31 inches deep. To facilitate access to the raised landing, the Vaughans had engaged a contractor to build a wooden box that would be used as a step up to the landing. The box itself was 9.5 inches high, and it measured 39 inches wide and 10.75 inches deep. It was constructed with "two-by-twelves" and covered in carpet. The Vaughans sometimes moved the step in order to accommodate their furniture, so it was not fastened to the landing itself. The Vaughans and their family members used the step for twenty years without incident. However, according to Mrs. Woodgett, when she attempted to traverse down the step, it "gave way" and caused her to fall.

         Mrs. Woodgett filed this lawsuit against the Vaughans alleging that the step constituted a dangerous condition and that the Vaughans had a duty to warn her about its potential danger.[1] She further alleged that the Vaughans were negligent in failing to properly secure the step in violation of county building codes.

         A jury trial was held over the course of two days in October 2015. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict finding that the Vaughans were not at fault. The trial court entered judgment on the jury verdict and dismissed the complaint. Mrs. Woodgett filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, to alter or amend, or in the alternative for a new trial, but the trial court denied the motion. Mrs. Woodgett timely filed a notice of appeal to this Court.

         II. Issues Presented

         Mrs. Woodgett lists the following five issues in her brief on appeal, as slightly reworded:

1. Whether the trial court erred in finding there was no evidence that an unsafe or ...

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