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Shacklett v. Rose

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 2, 2018


          Session March 27, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Williamson County No. 09218 Joseph Woodruff, Judge.

         This is a slip-and-fall case. An employee of a catering company fell, injuring herself when leaving a private residence after dark as she attempted to traverse an outside staircase. The employee brought suit against the homeowners, and the homeowners filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the homeowners' motion, concluding that the homeowners did not owe the employee a duty of care. Our review of the record has revealed that material, disputed facts remain which render this case inappropriate for summary judgment. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

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

          Nancy K. Corley, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anne Shacklett.

          Janet Strevel Hayes and Susan W. Carey, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Anthony A. Rose, Successor Executor of the Estate of W. Alexander Steele and Saundra Steele.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.



         Background and Procedural History

         On April 13, 2009, Appellant Anne Shacklett filed a complaint against co-defendants Alexander Steele and his wife Saundra Steele (together "Appellees, " or "the Homeowners") to recover damages for personal injuries Ms. Shacklett sustained in a fall down the outside stairs leading from the kitchen at the Homeowners' residence when she was leaving the residence after dark.[1] Prior to her fall, Ms. Shacklett had been working in the Homeowners' kitchen as an employee of a catering service hired by the Homeowners for a private event. It is undisputed that it was daylight when Ms. Shacklett arrived at the residence, and she traversed the outside stairs leading from the kitchen without incident multiple times during daylight hours. In relevant portion, the complaint described Ms. Shacklett's fall as follows:

Plaintiff was exiting the home at the end of the party and went down the side kitchen steps, falling through a break in the railing and landing on the bottom on concrete or other hard surface on her face. There were no house lights and the motion lights on the steps where Plaintiff fell were not operating. It was night and unlit so that the entire area was dark and therefore dangerous. These side kitchen steps [were] the only way for Plaintiff to ingress and egress the house as [the Homeowners] had provided no other way for the caterers to enter or exit the house. They were difficult to maneuver, not well lit, and had a broken and/or defective railing, through which Plaintiff fell.

         The Homeowners answered on May 28, 2009.[2] Regarding Ms. Shacklett's allegations concerning the inadequacy of the outdoor lighting, the Homeowners "den[ied] that 'there were no house lights, ' and they also denied that the residence utilized 'motion lights on the steps' as alleged[.]" They also "den[ied] that the 'entire area was dark and therefore dangerous.'" Later on in the discovery process, the Homeowners responded to Ms. Shacklett's requests for admissions. The Homeowners stated that the "outside lighting was working" on the night of the accident. Ms. Shacklett also prompted the Homeowners to "[a]dmit that the outside lighting illuminating the steps was on a timer which automatically shut off the outside lights at a specified hour." In response, the Homeowners stated as follows:

Objection. This request refers to "the outside lights, " without establishing that there was only one light to justify the use of the singular none [sic] light. Denied as phrased, while the outside light was on a timer, Defendant overrode the timer by placing the lights "all on" for the party.

         Ms. Shacklett was deposed, and she gave the following testimony concerning the circumstances surrounding her fall, excerpted in part as follows:

Q: So what happened to cause your accident?
A: After the party was over, I was leaving by myself from the kitchen going out down the stairs, holding on the rail. I was not carrying anything but my purse. And I went down the first set, a few stairs, turned to go down. The rail gave out. I mean, when I say "gave out, " I mean it ended, and I plunged to the ground on my face.
Q: Were you looking where you were going?
A: Certainly, but it was black. I mean, it was dark. It was out in the country. It was dark.
Q: When did you notice that there were no lights on outside?
A: Well, when I went out. When I went out.
Q: When you opened the door to go out?
A: After I got outside.
Q: And so when you-when you chose to go down the stairs, you knew there was no light.
A: Yes.
Q: Why didn't you turn on the lights?
A: I didn't know where there were [exterior] lights. I was careful, holding onto the rail.
Q: Now, you said that the rail ended at some point; is that right?
A: Yes.
Q: And did you stop when it ended or did you keep going?
A: Well, I wasn't expecting it to end, so I just kept ...

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