Tennessee Premise Liability Lawsuit Goes to High Court

June 19, 2013

Could businesses be responsible for removing intoxicated patrons from a facility if that patron then harms someone else on the premises?
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Our Knoxville injury attorneys understand that is the question before the Tennessee Supreme Court in Jolyn Cullum v. Jan McCool. If the high court sides with the plaintiff in this case, that could mean we could see an influx of negligence cases against businesses that fail to protect customers from the actions of a person expelled from their property.

Lower courts have come down on different sides of this issue, and now the state high court has agreed to take it on.

To understand more about the issue, let's explore a bit of background regarding the case at hand.

In February 2011, the plaintiff went to a Wal-Mart store to buy groceries. She finished her grocery shopping, went to the parking lot, located her vehicle and began to place her purchased items into the trunk of her car.

What she didn't know was around this same time, another woman had also just left the store and was entering her vehicle in that same parking lot. The other woman had attempted to purchase prescription medications at the pharmacy department of the store. However, she was denied service by workers who deemed her to be intoxicated. Infuriated with her inability to obtain her medicine, this woman reportedly became belligerent with store workers. The employees responded by ordering her to leave the store.

She complied. She also located her vehicle and got inside.

It was at this point that the two women's lives intersected. The allegedly intoxicated woman backed out of her parking space without locking behind her. In doing so, the suit says, she backed directly into the plaintiff. The plaintiff was knocked to the grown, crushed by the shopping cart and pinned between the two cars. The plaintiff screamed, but the intoxicated woman reportedly did not hear her. It was not until bystanders stopped her. She then got out of her vehicle and, in apparent attempt to help the injured women, moved her and caused her further pain and injury.

In addition to filing a negligence claim against the inebriated driver, the plaintiff filed suit against Wal-Mart, alleging negligence and gross negligence on the part of Wal-Mart staffers. The reason was that the staffers failed to call police, despite the woman's clearly intoxicated state and the fact that they knew she was alone and would have to drive herself off the premises in order to comply with employee requests to leave. Employees were reportedly familiar with the intoxicated woman, as this was not the first time this sort of thing had occurred. This failure to take further steps to protect other patrons, the plaintiff alleges, was negligent.

Initially, a country trial court dismissed the claim against Wal-Mart, saying the store couldn't be held responsible for the actions of a drunk patron. However, the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that because the intoxicated woman was invited onto the property as a customer, the store had a responsibility to protect other customers from harm.

Should the state supreme court side with the plaintiff, many businesses across the state - bars in particular - should pay close attention and adjust their policies accordingly.

If you have been injured in Knoxville due to premise liability, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.

Additional Resources:
Jolyn Cullum v. Jan McCool, Filed Nov. 5, 2012, U.S. Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville

More Blog Entries:
Holidays a Dangerous time for Fall Accidents in Tennessee, Nov. 4, 2013, Knoxville Premise Liability Lawyer Blog