Fall on a wet store floor? Tennessee premises liability law basics

The owner or party in control of premises has a legal duty to reasonably keep the premises safe.

The owner or occupier of premises has a legal duty to reasonably maintain and secure the property for the safety of others legally present there. When a failure to do so causes injury or death to a victim, the owner or occupier in control of the premises may be legally liable for the harm.

A successful premises liability suit may result in an award to the victim for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.

Common examples of premises liability claims include:

  • A customer in a grocery store slips on spilled produce or an unmarked wet floor and falls.
  • A patron slips on ice that has built up on the surface of a restaurant parking lot and falls.
  • A motel leaves a broken lock on a guest room door and an assailant enters and harms the occupants.
  • A store owner fails to repair an uneven floor or broken step, causing a customer to trip and fall.

Elements of a Tennessee premises liability claim

In a premises liability claim, the victim must prove that the property owner or operator was negligent, meaning that he or she breached a duty of care to the injured party that caused the harm. In addition, the plaintiff must show that the premises owner created the dangerous or defective condition on the premises that caused the injury or, if it was caused by a third party, that the owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition.

The concept that the owner should have known about a condition is called "constructive notice." Constructive notice can be proven by showing that the dangerous condition was reasonably foreseeable to the owner because of a pattern of behavior, a repeating incident or a continuing circumstance. Another way to show constructive notice is to prove that the condition had existed long enough that had the owner exercised reasonable care, he or she would have found it.

Comparative negligence defense

Under Tennessee premises liability law, if a victim is also negligent and that negligence contributed at least 50 percent of the reason for the injury, the plaintiff cannot recover anything. For example, in one Tennessee case, the victim could not recover because her injury from slipping and falling in a large, dark, noticeable oil puddle in a parking lot was at least 50 percent her fault, where she did not look down as she walked and did not pay attention to where she placed her feet. Had she been alert, she would have noticed the black puddle that was clearly visible on the gray asphalt.

If the victim's negligence was less than 50 percent, the amount of any damage award would be reduced by the percentage he or she was negligent in causing the incident.

Anyone who was injured on the premises of another, even if his or her behavior may have contributed to the accident, should speak with an attorney about a potential premises liability suit.

The lawyers at Horton, Ballard & Pemerton PLLC in Chattanooga represent clients in the Chattanooga region of Tennessee and northern Georgia in premises liability claims for injuries from slip-and-fall incidents, negligent security and other similar causes.