Under Tennessee law, a property owner’s duty to keep their property free of dangerous conditions depends upon who is visiting the property and why
Injuries due to a property owner’s negligence can happen in stores, public parks, hotel rooms, restaurants, or even another person’s home and can include serious or catastrophic accidents such as slip and fall, struck by falling debris, bitten by a dog, or becoming the victim of a violent crime.
The area of law which determines whether a property owner can be held legally responsible for an injury sustained by a visitor is called “premises liability”, and in Tennessee, established guidelines set forth the duties of all property owners to prevent injuries.
Generally, a property owner has a duty to:
- Monitor and inspect property for dangerous conditions. For example, an unwary visitor can slip and fall on a tile floor if liquid is spilled on that floor. A property owner generally must monitor their floors for such spills.
- Warn visitors of any dangerous conditions which may cause injury. Continuing the example of spilled liquid, once the property owner is aware of the spill, he or she must take measures to alert any visitors to the wet floor, either by monitoring the area and providing oral warnings, or by posting a warning sign nearby.
- Repair or eliminate dangerous conditions. Again, in the case of spilled liquid on a tile floor, this is a matter of the property owner cleaning up the spill quickly.
The extent of the duty that a property owner owes to visitors is dependent upon the status of those visitors. Tennessee classifies visitors into three categories:
- Trespassers—A trespasser is anybody who enters a piece of property without the express or implied consent of the property owner. Although a property owner is not allowed to create conditions which intentionally injure trespassers (such as traps or tripwires), a property owner unaware of an adult trespasser has no duty to warn that person of any unsafe conditions on the property, and no duty to repair the unsafe condition. A common example is a construction sites: An owner of a construction site is typically not liable to a trespassing adult injured after falling into a hole.
However, trespassing children are subject to a special standard known as the “attractive nuisance doctrine”, in which a property owner may be held liable if their property is shown to somehow entice children into trespassing; for example, a property owner could be liable if a child is injured using a backyard trampoline without permission, as it is likely that a trampoline presents a dangerous condition, and may attract a child into entering that backyard without permission.
- Licensees—A “licensee” is a fancy word for a houseguest. Like a trespasser, a licensee enters a property seeking to somehow benefit from being on the property, but does so with the permission and consent of the property owner. A higher duty of care is thus owed to a licensee, in that a property owner is liable to an injured licensee if that property owner knew or should have known of the unsafe condition causing the licensee’s injury. Using the spilled water example, a homeowner would not be liable to a guest who slips on a wet floor if the guest spilled the water without the homeowner’s knowledge—but would be liable if the homeowner failed to warn that guest that a nearby leaky pipe was known to create slippery puddles.
- Invitees—Invitees, sometimes called “business invitees”, are owed the highest duty of care under Tennessee law. An invitee can be distinguished from a licensee because a property owner can benefit economically from an invitee’s visit. In short, an invitee is usually a customer entering a commercial establishment, such as a store, restaurant or salon, intending to purchase goods or services. A property owner in Tennessee must provide an invitee with the highest possible duty of care under Tennessee law by not only warning invitees of dangerous conditions and repairing those conditions, but also by conducting ongoing inspections of the premises in order to ensure that such defects do not exist at all. Using the spilled water example yet again, a property owner has a proactive duty to discover such spills before the invitee slips and falls.
If you have suffered an injury while on another person’s property, you are urged to consult an experienced Murfreesboro premises liability attorney as soon as possible to determine the duty of care owed to you under Tennessee law. The Murfreesboro premises liability attorneys of Kidwell, South, Beasley and Haley have successfully represented people who have suffered such injuries for over forty years. Contact us online, or call 615-893-1331 for a free initial consultation.