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Epps v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 15, 2018


          Session February 5, 2018

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 16C987 Kelvin D. Jones, Judge

         A 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.

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

          Peter M. Olson, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant,

          Matthew Epps. Barbara Jones Perutelli, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Mary Sonjia Thompson.

          Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Richard H. Dinkins and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.




         Mary 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[1] 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.

         The 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.

         Mr. 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 ...

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