Session March 27, 2018
from the Circuit Court for Williamson County No. 09218 Joseph
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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed and Remanded
K. Corley, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anne
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.
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J.,
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
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. 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
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.
Homeowners answered on May 28, 2009. 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
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.
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.
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
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