February 27, 2008

Expert and lay testimony regarding causation, even if somewhat vague, is enough to survive summary judgment

THOMAS MORROW, ET AL. v. RONNIE BULL, ET AL. (Tenn.Ct.App. February 27, 2008).

The tenants, who leased a newly-constructed house from the builder/owner, sued the builder/owner alleging, among other things, that the house was negligently constructed in that it was built on a site that unreasonably exposed the house to excessive moisture and with a deficient water runoff and drainage system. The tenants sought compensation for personal injury and property damage allegedly caused by toxic mold in the house due to excessively wet basement walls. The trial court granted the builder/owner summary judgment. Upon review, we vacate the trial court's summary judgment based on our finding that genuine issues of material fact exist.

Cases available at the Tennessee Bar Association website: http://www.tba2.org/tba_files/TCA/2008/morrowt_022708.pdf

"The trial court ruled that Mr. Tiano’s affidavit was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact, stating that “the affidavit does not point to any one condition which did cause the mold and, therefore, deals in possibilities, not probabilities.” While Mr. Tiano’s opinion as to potential causation of the mold infestation could have been stated with more certainty, it is clearly not so vague as to be completely discounted on a summary judgment determination. We note in this regard that all nine of the possible causes identified by Mr. Tiano involve defective or insufficient construction of the house." Id.

"The combination of the expert and lay testimony clearly creates a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether water runoff from the school construction caused the mold growth under plaintiffs’ home, especially when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs." Id. (citing Hardaway v. Hamilton County, No. E2006-01977-COA-R3-CV, 2007 WL 4207930, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. E.S., filed Nov. 29, 2007)).