TN customer hit by intoxicated driver files liability suit against store

People in Tennessee are legally protected in the event that they are injured on the property of another individual or business, under certain circumstances. Recently, a Tennessee appeals court found that, under premises liability law, a store could be held liable for an injury that one intoxicated customer caused another customer, even if the store did not contribute to the intoxication. If this decision is upheld, it could set an unusual precedent for people in Anderson County who are hurt on the property of others.

Appeals court finds negligence

A case filing published on the Tennessee Bar Association website describes the circumstances of the accident. The intoxicated driver had visited Wal-Mart to have her prescription filled. The pharmacy employees, who had seen this customer in intoxicated states before and believed that she was intoxicated again, refused to fill the prescription. The woman left in a state of agitation.

In the parking lot, the woman backed her car into a customer who was unloading groceries into her own car, knocking her down and trapping her beneath her shopping cart, between the two cars. When bystanders caught the attention of the intoxicated driver, she left the vehicle and attempted to move the other woman, causing the victim considerable pain.

The victim later filed suit against the intoxicated driver and against Wal-Mart, claiming that the store acted negligently by failing to protect her. The case was initially dismissed on the grounds that it was not the store's responsibility to take any action regarding the intoxicated woman after she left the store. However, a Hamilton County appeals court overturned that decision on the grounds that:

  • Store employees were familiar with the woman and observed that she was visibly intoxicated.
  • Store employees ordered the woman to leave knowing that she was alone.
  • Store employees could reasonably have anticipated that the woman would pose a threat to others when she operated her vehicle while intoxicated.
  • Store employees failed to take any action such as calling the police or warning other patrons.

The interesting ruling provides an opportunity to remind people in Tennessee of other unusual circumstances in which a property owner or business, even if not directly responsible for an injury, may be held liable.

A broader look at premises liability

There are precedents for businesses being held liable for harm that one visitor causes another, according to the Huffington Post. Although businesses cannot control the behavior of visitors, businesses must do whatever they can to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to patrons, including injuries caused by other customers.

One widely publicized case in 2013 involved a Denny's customer who was assaulted when she asked other customers, who were intoxicated, to quiet down. Denny's was held liable because employees knew that intoxicated customers caused many workplace violence incidents, they ignored the victim's request that they speak with the intoxicated customers, and they failed to prevent the foreseeable violence that arose when the victim spoke to the customers herself.

Although unusual, these cases underscore the importance of victims seeking legal counsel after incidents like these. Determining liability in personal injury cases can be difficult, but an attorney can help a victim ensure that all appropriate parties are held responsible.

If you have been injured because of another person's actions, make sure to consider speaking with an attorney about what happened and what kind of compensation you may be entitled to.

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