Session February 5, 2018
from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 16C987 Kelvin
D. Jones, Judge
landowner hired an individual she supervised at work to paint
her house outside of work. The landowner provided the painter
with material and ladders for the job. While he was using the
folding ladder and painting one of the house's eaves, the
painter fell to the ground and injured his wrist. The painter
sued the landowner for damages, asserting the landowner was
negligent for providing him with old ladders that were
unsafe. The landowner moved for summary judgment, which the
trial court granted after finding the painter was unable to
prove cause in fact or proximate cause. The painter appealed,
and we affirm the trial court's judgment.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
M. Olson, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Matthew Epps. Barbara Jones Perutelli, Nashville, Tennessee,
for the appellee, Mary Sonjia Thompson.
D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Richard H. Dinkins and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.
D. BENNETT, JUDGE
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Sonjia Thompson hired Matthew Epps in April 2015 to paint a
house she owned in Joelton, Tennessee. Ms. Thompson provided
Mr. Epps with paint, brushes, rollers, and two aluminum
ladders. One of the ladders was an extension ladder, and the
other one was a folding ladder. When Mr. Epps was painting
the highest part of the house, he fell off the folding ladder
and injured his right wrist. Mr. Epps filed a complaint
against Ms. Thompson in which he alleged the ladders she
provided were "old, loose, and not a safe appliance for
the work required." Mr. Epps claimed Ms. Thompson
violated her duty to provide Mr. Epps with a reasonably safe
place and with safe appliances to paint her house. Mr. Epps
sought money damages in an amount not to exceed $500, 000.
parties engaged in discovery, and both Mr. Epps and Ms.
Thompson gave their depositions. Mr. Epps testified that Ms.
Thompson was his supervisor at Metro and that when she
offered him a side job outside of work where he could earn
extra money, he was happy to take it. The job involved
painting a shed and the window sills, trim, and eaves of a
brick house. Mr. Epps explained that Ms. Thompson met him the
morning he was to start the job and provided him with paint,
brushes, rollers, an extension handle for the rollers, and
two ladders. Mr. Epps worked on Ms. Thompson's house over
the course of two or three weekends. He fell as he was
painting one of the eaves, which was the highest point of the
house that needed painting. He described his fall as follows:
Q: Well, why don't you describe to me how you fell?
. . . .
A: Well, what I had done - - this is exactly what I did. I
walked around and looked for a position to put the ladder,
and so I sat the - - the long ladder, the extension ladder,
it wasn't working. It wasn't working. I tried to put
it up on the house, and I tested it with my foot and shaked
[sic] it, but it wasn't working right.
Q: All right. When you say, it wasn't working, explain.
A: It's just the brackets on the bottom of the foot
wasn't working right. And then one latch on the . . .
right side, it wasn't catching. It just didn't feel
right. It wasn't catching right. So I was, like, no, I
can't use this ladder. So I tried the other ladder. The
brackets on the bottom of the foot, you know, was sticking.
And so, I mean, I used it anyway. Her words - -her exact
words to me - - I asked her about the ladders, and she said,
well, they're old ladders, but they will work. So I'm
not going to argue, because, like I said, that's my boss.
I had no problems with her. So she wanted the job done, so my
job was to get the job done. I wasn't there for me to
question her about nothing.
Epps explained that he used the folding ladder to reach the
eave of the house where he fell. Because an air conditioning
unit was situated immediately below the highest point, he was
unable to place the extension ladder in such a way that he
could reach the top of the eave. The ground next to the house
where Mr. Epps fell sloped away from the house, and he said
he had trouble situating the folding ladder in a way that it
seemed stable enough to use. Mr. Epps testified:
A: I went up and down [the ladder] a couple of times, shaking
the ladder, because I couldn't get it to sit right, you
know, and then I kept looking at the legs and trying to get
the legs right. Couldn't get it to sit right. Once I got
it stable to where I thought it was in a position to where I
could finish this job up, then I went back up and proceeded
to finish my work.
Q: And then tell me what happened when you fell.
A: I just started painting. And when I got to - - right at
the end - - close to the end of . . . the peak [of the house
eave] I just looked up at it and thought it looked okay. And
then, like I said, I don't know if it was the devil or an