Premises Liability Laws in Tennessee

When is a property owner liable for an injury that occurs on their property?

Tennessee law requires that property owners take reasonable care to protect people on their property from unreasonable risks of harm. But what exactly does this mean?

Premises liability is a legal concept that governs when a property owner is liable for an injury that occurs on their property.

All states have premises liability laws, but the specifics of the law differ from state to state.

In this article, we'll look at the premises liability laws in Tennessee.

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Types of premises liability cases

Premises liability comes into play any time someone is injured on someone else's property. The most common example is when a person slips and falls on someone else's property (commonly referred to as a "slip and fall" case). But there are countless situations that could implicate premises liability laws, including:

  • Dog or animal attacks
  • Swimming pool accidents
  • Fires
  • Toxic torts
  • Inadequate building security that leads to an injury

Determining whether a property owner is liable for your injury

In Tennessee, property owners have a duty to exercise "reasonable care" to protect people on their property from "unreasonable risks of harm."

If a property owner fails to exercise reasonable care, the property owner will be liable for any harm that results.

Enjuris tip: At one time, the specific duty owed to a visitor depended on the "type" of visitor. To this end, visitors were classified as invitees or licensees. These distinctions were abolished by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Hudson v. Gaitan, 675 S.W.2d 699 (Tenn. 1984).

"Reasonable care" is a legal term, so what does it actually mean? What does a property owner need to do to keep visitors safe?

Premises liability laws require that property owners either remove or warn against any dangerous condition on the premises of which the property owner is actually aware or should be aware through the exercise of reasonable diligence.

Let's look at the following real-life example:

Real-life example: Shanera Jones was shopping at the Publix Supermarket on Concord Road in Davidson County, Tennessee. As Shanera rounded a corner in the seafood aisle, she slipped on a clear liquid and fell.

Video footage shows that, 2 minutes before Shanera's fall, a toddler sitting in a "kiddy cart" dropped a "sippy cup" inside a cart and that a little bit of liquid from inside the container may have fallen through the wire bottom of the car onto the floor.

Shanera filed a lawsuit against Publix.

After hearing the arguments from both sides, the court ruled that there was no evidence that Publix knew about the dangerous condition (the clear liquid) before Shanera slipped. What's more, the court explained that there was no reason to believe that Publix should have known about the dangerous condition because the liquid was only present for 2 minutes and difficult to see.

The court ruled in favor of Publix and dismissed the case.

Defenses to premises liability claims

There are 3 defenses that are commonly raised in premises liability claims:

  1. Express assumption of the risk. If a visitor voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risk of the dangerous condition, then the property owner is not liable for any injuries that result. For example, a skier who signs a waiver expressly assumes the risks associated with the ski mountain.
  2. Open and obvious. Defendants often argue that they're not at fault because the dangerous condition was "open and obvious." In other words, the plaintiff should have seen the dangerous condition and avoided it.

    A landowner won't be relieved of their duty to exercise reasonable care simply because a dangerous condition is open and obvious, but the openness and obviousness of a dangerous condition is a factor considered by the court in determining whether the landowner is liable.

    What's more, even if a dangerous condition is open and obvious, the landowner will generally have a responsibility to fix the dangerous condition if the potential harm outweighs the burden of fixing the condition.
  3. Modified comparative fault. Tennessee follows the modified comparative fault rule, which means that the plaintiff's damages will be reduced by their percentage of fault. What's more, if the plaintiff is 50% or more at fault, the plaintiff won't be able to recover any damages.

    It's not uncommon for a plaintiff to be considered at least partially at fault for a premises liability accident. For example, if a customer is running through a store and trips on a torn piece of carpet, the store might be liable for failing to repair the carpet but the customer will likely be partially responsible for running through the store.

Damages available in a premises liability case

Tennessee allows plaintiffs to recover both economic and non-economic damages:

  • Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by your injury, including medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage.
  • Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by your injury, including pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium.

In rare cases, when the defendant acted maliciously, fraudulently, or recklessly, plaintiffs may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish defendants and deter similar actions in the future.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about the value of a personal injury claim in Tennessee.

In most cases, Tennessee law caps the amount of non-economic damages you can receive at $750,000 and the amount of punitive damages you can receive at $500,000. However, if you suffer a catastrophic injury, the non-economic damage cap is increased to $1 million.

Statute of limitations for premises liability cases

Tennessee has a "statute of limitations," which sets forth the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file a lawsuit by the deadline, you are permanently barred from filing the lawsuit.

For most premises liability cases, the statute of limitations is 1 year.

In other words, you have 1 year from the date of your injury to file your lawsuit.

Enjuris tip: There are a few very narrow exceptions to the 1-year statute of limitations for premises liability cases. If you think the statute of limitations has expired, talk to an attorney before throwing in the towel to make sure there aren't any exceptions that apply to your case.

Frequently asked questions about premises liability in Tennessee

Still have questions?

Take a look at our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about premises liability below:

Is a property owner liable if you slip on snow that has accumulated on their property?

It doesn't usually snow a lot in Tennessee, but even a little bit of snow can be dangerous. Property owners are responsible for shoveling snow (which is considered a dangerous condition). However, Tennessee courts have held that property owners have a reasonable amount of time to do so.

In Clifford v. Crye Leike Inc., the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that the defendant didn't act unreasonably when the landowner decided not to start removing accumulated snow until after the storm subsided.

Can you sue the government for an injury on government-owned property?

The government owns property all over Tennessee, from public parks to the post office to public roads. The same premises liability laws apply to government-owned property as apply to privately-owned property. There are, however, certain procedural differences, including a pre-suit notice requirement. If you plan on suing the government, talk to an attorney who has experience doing so first.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about suing the government and sovereign immunity.

Can I sue a property owner if I'm on the property illegally?

Under Tennessee law, property owners don't owe a duty of care to trespassers.

However, a different rule applies if the trespasser is a child. Under the attractive nuisance rule, a property owner can be held liable to a trespassing child if:

  • A dangerous condition exists on the property,
  • The dangerous condition is particularly dangerous to children and the danger is unlikely to be understood by them,
  • The condition is especially attractive to children,
  • The owner has knowledge of the dangerous condition and the likelihood that children will trespass on the property, and
  • The injury is reasonably foreseeable.

The attractive nuisance doctrine is most commonly raised in cases in which children are injured in swimming pools.

Can I sue for criminal acts that occur on someone's property?

Property owners have a duty to minimize dangerous conditions that they should know about, including criminal acts. If considering whether or not a property owner is liable for the criminal act of a third party, the court will consider:

  • Whether the property owner had the ability to control the situation
  • Whether the property owner should have foreseen that the criminal act was likely to occur
  • Whether the property owner took any steps to prevent the criminal act

Where can I find a premises liability attorney in Tennessee?

Premises liability cases can be complex, especially when the property owner is a corporation or government entity. You can locate an experienced Tennessee attorney in the Enjuris Lawyer Directory.

Once you've located an attorney, take a few minutes to prepare for your first meeting.

Your First Meeting with an Attorney
A worksheet to prepare for your first meeting with a personal injury attorney – what to bring, what they'll ask
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