Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: “What can you sue for in a personal injury case?”
We all know smoking can kill, but in one man’s recent wrongful death claim against a Tennessee pipe tobacco and cigar store, he did not allege that the shop’s products were what killed his wife.
Rather, the man sued because when his wife fainted while they were shopping in the store one day, she fell into one of the store’s antique glass display cases. The glass shattered, tragically puncturing the woman’s chest and killing her.
The trial court held that the woman’s death was not sufficiently foreseeable enough for the case to proceed and dismissed the claim, which the widower appealed. The state appellate court recently took the case, embarking on a detailed discussion of foreseeability.
In order to prevail on a negligence claim, the injured party (plaintiff) must generally be able to establish four (4) things:
- A duty of care the defendant owed the plaintiff;
- Conduct by the defendant that fell below this standard of care;
- A loss or injury to the plaintiff; and
- Actual and proximate causation.
Heightened duties of care can apply in the context of certain relationships, such as the duty of care medical doctors owe their patients, but the duty of care most people owe to others is usually that of “reasonable care.” This reasonable care is likewise the level of care a store owes to its customers on the premises.
Involved in the reasonable care analysis is the concept of foreseeability. A plaintiff must prove:
- That their injury—in this case, the death of the husband’s wife—was a reasonably foreseeable outcome. Proving this requires the plaintiff to prove:
- That there was some action within the defendant’s power to take that more probably than not would have prevented the injury, but that the defendant did not take it.
The concept as applied in this case can be summarized thus: If an injury is so “out there,” so unexpected that no reasonable person short of a writer for the Final Destination movie series could have seen it coming and put safeguards in place against its occurrence, then it is not fair to sue for it.
In each foreseeability analysis, piecing together the chain of events that led to the injury is necessary to apportion fault. In this case, for example, the courts discussed whether it was reasonably foreseeable that a customer would have fallen and pushed their full body weight into the glass case, and whether the store was on notice that the glass in the case was weakened or susceptible to breakage.
The husband argued that because the display case was not shatterproof and the store knew that, it should have anticipated that it was possible for the case to break and cause someone physical harm.
While the shatterproof part may be true, the question for the court was how possible it was for the case to break, and how probable the resulting risk of physical harm was. As it turns out, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that neither were foreseeable enough. The store presented evidence that the display case at issue was about 30 years old, had withstood collisions from baby carriages, children pushing on and leaning against it, and other substantial impacts, and that the glass did not appear to be insubstantial or fragile. They also argued that nothing about the store’s condition caused the victim to fall.
If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
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