Tennessee Accidents and Premises Liability: Who is Responsible?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 10, 2020

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Put simply, in Tennessee the person or entity responsible for maintaining a piece of property in a safe condition can be named in a premises liability suit if a person is injured on the property because of negligent maintenance. For example, the landlord of an apartment complex, who also manages the building, has the responsibility to keep it safe or be held liable for damages. If someone trips on a damaged sidewalk and is hurt, the landlord will be the defendant in the lawsuit. In some cases there might be more than one defendant. If your landlord hires a property management company, the landlord is still responsible for maintaining the property. The management company is only his agent. Since the management company might also be negligent, both the company and the landlord would probably be named as defendants by your Tennessee premises liability attorney.

On the other hand, if the owner of property leases it to someone else and that tenant takes on the full responsibility for maintaining the property, the owner might not be liable for accidents.

Different Levels of Responsibility

In Tennessee, a landowner, manager, or tenant, owes different duties of care to different classes of people. There are three different groups (business invitees, social visitors or licensees, and illegal trespassers), with three different levels of care required.

Business Invitee. An invitee is someone who comes to a property for business, or something that is to the economic advantage of both parties. The most common business invitee, of course, is someone who goes to a commercial establishment like a store, restaurant, health club, tavern, spa, bank, or office.

Business invitees are entitled to the highest level of care. The people responsible for making a property safe must exercise care to make sure the property is safe for business invitees. If dangerous conditions can’t be repaired, business invitees must be warned of any danger.

Social Visitors and Licensees. These are people who are invited onto someone’s property for social reasons, though there may not be a formal invitation every time they come. For example, if you and your neighbor are used to dropping by each other’s house or your sister often brings her children over to visit, they are considered invited, even if they drop in unannounced. People can be social visitors at places of business too, if they come to visit the owner or an employee for social, not business, reasons. Social visitors are sometimes also called licensees.

The person controlling the property must not intentionally injure a social visitor and must either repair any dangerous condition he or she has discovered or warn the visitor about known dangerous conditions. In the case of business invitees, there is more of a duty to check and be aware of dangers.

Illegal Trespassers. These are people who come onto property without permission, and they are entitled to the least amount of care. A trespasser might include a burglar, someone taking a shortcut across your property, someone snooping, or someone helping themselves to some of your flowers.

The landowner is only obliged not to intentionally hurt an adult trespasser. It would be illegal for a landowner to set some kind of trap to catch a poacher or someone stealing apples, for example. But if someone were wandering around your property without permission and falls in a hole, you wouldn’t be liable for his injuries.

If the trespasser is a child, however, the level of responsibility is much higher. If any danger exists which may attract a child’a swimming pool or some kind of sport or play facility, for example’property owners may be liable if a child wanders into the hazard and is hurt. There is no responsibility for natural dangers that are obvious, however. If you have property that slopes down to a river, you aren’t responsible if people fall in or drown swimming there.

Recreational Use

Tennessee’s recreation use statute relieves the landowner from premises liability if the land is leased to a governmental body for recreational purposes or if some governmental body has a conservation or public easement on the property.

If You Have a Claim

If you would like to have your case evaluated by an experienced Tennessee premises liability attorney, fill out our case evaluation form at no cost or obligation.

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