Session May 24, 2018
from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. 15-CV-1954
Ross H. Hicks, Judge
a slip-and-fall case. A middle school teacher injured herself
when she fell in the hallway outside her classroom on a wet
floor. A custodian had been mopping the hallway prior to her
fall, and the teacher alleged that the custodians had
negligently and misleadingly placed wet-floor signs on the
opposite side of the hallway, which did not warn her of the
wet floor on her side of the hallway. Thereafter, the teacher
brought suit against the school district pursuant to the
Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Following a bench
trial, the trial court found the custodians guilty of
negligence and assigned seventy-five percent of the fault to
the school district and twenty-five percent of the fault to
the teacher. A judgment was entered against the school
district in the amount of $180, 000.00, after reduction for
the teacher's comparative fault. The school district
appeals, contending (1) that it is immune from suit; (2) that
it was not negligent; and (3) that any negligence it may have
committed is outweighed by that of the teacher's
comparative fault. The teacher argues that the trial court
erred in assigning any of the fault to her. We affirm in part
and reverse in part.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and
Kathryn W. Olita and Jamie K. Durrett, Clarksville,
Tennessee, for the appellant, Clarksville Montgomery County
William L. Aldred, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellee,
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Kenny Armstrong, JJ., joined.
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE
and Procedural History
September 29, 2015, Appellee LaSonya Robertson, an employee
of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
("Appellant") and a teacher at Rossville Middle
School, filed a complaint against Appellant to recover
damages for personal injuries she sustained when she fell in
the hallway outside her classroom at the school on December
12, 2014. Ms. Robertson alleged that Appellant was liable
under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act
("GTLA") because the custodians had negligently
mopped the hallway and misleadingly placed two wet-floor
signs, and failed to warn her that the entire hallway was
wet. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-307.
November 15, 2015, Appellant answered, denying that the
custodians acted negligently. Furthermore, Appellant averred
that it was immune under the GTLA. Appellant also argued that
the water on the floor was "open and obvious" and
asserted comparative fault as a defense.
trial court conducted a bench trial on August 29, 2017. Ms.
Robertson, Norman Mitchell, Janet Willis, and Tommy Butler
testified. Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Willis are custodians at the
school, and they were present in the hallway when Ms.
Robertson fell. Tommy Butler is the safety and health
director for the school system. Ms. Robertson's fall was
captured on a surveillance video, and the video was made an
exhibit at trial. Several photographs taken by Ms. Willis
after Ms. Robertson's fall were also introduced into
Willis testified that on the day of the fall she had noticed
water "tracked" in the hallway on the left side
near the lockers, so she asked Mr. Mitchell to assist her in
mopping the hallway. Mr. Mitchell testified that on the day
of the accident, he had been assisting Ms. Willis because she
was unable to mop due to a recent medical procedure. Mr.
Mitchell and Ms. Willis testified that they had been trained,
pursuant to Appellant's written policy, to place
wet-floor signs out whenever the custodians were mopping or
noticed liquid on the floor. Mr. Mitchell testified that
there was liquid on the floor around an area on the left side
of the hallway, so he placed two wet-floor signs out on the
left side of the hallway near the liquid and began mopping.
Mr. Mitchell testified that he mopped the entire hall,
including the right side, which abutted Ms. Robertson's
classroom, after he finished mopping the area between the
signs where he had seen the spill. However, neither Ms.
Willis nor Mr. Mitchell moved the wet-floor signs from the
left side of the hallway where the signs were originally
placed. Ms. Willis testified that she knew Ms. Robertson was
in her classroom because they had spoken in her classroom
around the time the hallway was being mopped but neither Ms.
Willis nor Mr. Mitchell warned Ms. Robertson that Mr.
Mitchell had mopped the entire hallway and not just the area
on the left side of the hallway where Mr. Mitchell had placed
Robertson testified that on the day of her fall, the students
had been released early, but the teachers were expected to
stay for the rest of the regular work day. Ms. Robertson
testified that shortly after 1:00 P.M., she exited her
classroom to make copies for her class and attend a
teacher's meeting scheduled to take place at 1:30 P.M.,
when she immediately slipped on the wet floor in the hallway
outside her classroom. Ms. Robertson testified that she was
unaware that there was water on the floor until she fell, and
she was unable to see into the hallway from where she had
been working at her desk. Ms. Robertson testified that she
was not in a hurry, and she did not see the wet-floor signs.
Butler testified that the custodians attended an annual
training session in which they were provided with a
power-point presentation containing Appellant's wet-floor
sign policy. Mr. Butler testified that custodians are
required to put out wet-floor signs anytime they mop to
"make the workplace and school environment as safe as
[they] possibly can for staff, students, and visitors."
Mr. Butler opined that the custodians in this case took
reasonable steps to warn of the liquid on the floor in
compliance with the written policy.
November 15, 2017, the trial court issued a Memorandum
Opinion setting out its findings of fact and conclusions of
law. The trial court found that the custodians did not place
the wet-floor signs in such a way as to give Ms. Robertson
adequate warning "that mopping had taken place or that
the floor was wet in the area where she fell, particularly
since the custodial staff knew that she was still in her
classroom and had the opportunity to warn her orally but
failed to do so." The trial court went on to make the
The placement of the signs in the small area on the left side
of the hallway near the lockers and the entrance door to the
other classroom would have been adequate to warn of a wet
floor or mopping in that small immediate area. The Court
finds that it was inadequate to warn Ms. Robertson or others
that the center and right side of the hallway and the area
immediately outside Ms. Robertson's classroom were wet or
had been mopped and did not conform to the requirements set
forth in the school system's policies.
trial court concluded that the custodians failed to properly
implement the "wet floor sign policy," and
"the placement of the signs was misleading and did not
adequately warn Ms. Robertson that the right hand side of the
hallway where she fell was wet." Therefore, the trial
court found that Appellant was not immune under the GTLA. The
trial court then held that the custodians were seventy-five
percent negligent, but the court attributed twenty-five
percent of the fault for the accident to Ms. Robertson
because she was "negligent in failing to see the sign
directly in front of her." The trial court entered a
final judgment incorporating by reference its Memorandum
Opinion and awarding Ms. Robertson a judgment for $180,
000.00, after reduction for her percentage of comparative
fault. Appellant timely appealed.
Presented Appellant has raised the following issues
for review, which we have rephrased as follows:
• Whether the trial court committed reversible error in
concluding that Appellant's immunity under the Tennessee
Governmental Tort Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated
section 29-20-201 had been removed.
• Whether the evidence supports the trial court's
conclusion that the custodians were negligent.
• Whether the evidence preponderates against the trial
court's conclusion that the custodians' negligence
exceeded the alleged negligence of Ms. Robertson.
Appellee has raised the following issue for review:
• Whether the trial court erred in failing to allocate
one hundred percent of the fault for the accident to
a non-jury case and, as such, is subject to our de
novo review upon the record of the proceedings below. We
presume that the trial court's findings of fact are
correct, and we must honor that presumption unless the
evidence preponderates to the contrary. Tenn. R. App. P. 13;
Union Carbide Corp. v. Huddleston,854 S.W.2d 87, 91
(Tenn. 1993). There is no presumption as to the correctness
of the trial court's conclusions of law. See Campbell
v. Florida Steel Corp.,919 S.W.2d 26, 35 (Tenn. 1996).
As this is a case involving comparative fault, it is
important to note that the assessment of the parties'
relative fault is one of fact, carrying the aforementioned
presumption of correctness. Wright v. City of
Knoxville,898 S.W.2d 177, 181 (Tenn. 1995). Our de
novo review is subject to the well-established principle
that the trial court, having seen and ...