Garza Law Firm

Property & Personal Safety

Unraveling the Complexities of Tennessee Premises Liability Law

Story by Jason Legg | Photography by Nathan Sparks

In the vast landscape of legal matters, few areas carry the weight and impact of premises liability law. While it may not boast the intrigue of a high-profile criminal trial or the drama of a personal injury case, its significance cannot be overstated. Here, within the realm of property ownership and personal safety, lie intricacies that shape outcomes and influence lives. Welcome to the domain where the very ground we tread upon holds profound consequences. Within the bounds of Tennessee premises liability law, a labyrinth of complexities awaits exploration. But fear not, for at the Garza Law Firm, we stand ready to shed light on this intricate terrain and empower you with the knowledge needed for a safer journey. 

Understanding the Burden of Proof

In the realm of premises liability, the burden of proof rests squarely upon the shoulders of the injured party. To successfully navigate a claim, one must erect the pillars of negligence: duty of care, breach of duty, injury or loss, causation, and proximate cause. Moreover, establishing the origin of a hazardous condition, whether through the actions of the owner or their knowledge thereof, is paramount. This arduous task demands meticulous evidence gathering and a keen legal eye.

Duty of Care

Within the boundaries of Tennessee, property owners bear a weighty obligation to exercise care toward lawful entrants. This encompasses the duty to maintain safe premises, conduct regular inspections, and promptly address any identified hazards. Rooted in foreseeability, this duty hinges upon the owner’s awareness or what should reasonably be known regarding potential risks. The owner or possessor owes a duty which includes:

1. Ensuring that the premises are kept in a condition that reasonably ensures safety.

2. Regularly inspecting the premises to identify any hazardous conditions that could reasonably be recognized through common experience and ordinary caution.

3. Taking action to either eliminate or provide warnings about any dangerous conditions that the owner or possessor is aware of or should reasonably be aware of.

The extent of responsibility hinges on how predictable the risk is. To succeed, the injured person must show that the injury was reasonably foreseeable and that taking some reasonable action within the owner’s or possessor’s capability could have prevented it. A risk is foreseeable if a reasonable person can anticipate its likelihood or if someone is aware of the danger to the injured person. If the injury couldn’t reasonably be anticipated, then the duty of care doesn’t apply.

Identifying Dangerous or Defective Conditions

At the heart of premises liability cases lie the imperative to pinpoint specific hazardous or defective conditions leading to injury. Whether it be a treacherously slick surface or an unmarked hazard lurking in the shadows, clarity in identifying the hazard and its connection to the resulting injury is paramount. Without a clear identification of the hazardous condition, liability falters.

Notice Requirement

To establish liability, it falls upon the injured party to prove that the property owner possessed either actual or constructive notice of the hazardous condition. Actual notice implies direct knowledge, while constructive notice hinges upon the condition’s existence for a duration that reasonable diligence should have uncovered. Both avenues demand substantial evidence.

Navigating Statute of Limitations

In the realm of premises liability, time is of the essence. Tennessee’s statute of limitations, which mandates a one-year window from the date of the incident for filing lawsuits, looms large. While exceptions exist for minors, incapacitated individuals, and those lacking capacity, adherence to this temporal boundary is vital for preserving rights and pursuing just compensation.

Defense Strategies

In the arena of premises liability, property owners and insurers wield a variety of defense strategies. Owners often assert the “open and obvious” defense, claiming that the hazardous condition was visible to everyone, and thus, the injured person should have noticed it and avoided harm. This defense is evaluated within the framework of comparative fault. Simply put, the mere fact that a danger was apparent does not automatically excuse a property owner from their duty of care. Instead, the duty owed must be assessed in light of foreseeability, the severity of potential harm, and whether reasonable alternative actions were feasible to prevent it. Even if a danger was obvious, if the foreseeability and seriousness of harm outweighed the burden on the property owner to take preventative measures, they are still obligated to exercise reasonable care. Subsequently, the circumstances of the case are scrutinized under the doctrine of modified comparative fault.

Exploring Modified Comparative Fault and the Recreational Use Statute

Within the jurisdiction of Tennessee, Modified Comparative Fault emerges as a pivotal doctrine. It entails a comparative analysis of the actions or inactions of both parties, resulting in the assignment of fault percentages. Should the injured party surpass the 50% threshold of fault, recovery is foreclosed. However, partial fault allows for compensation, albeit subject to reduction by the assigned fault percentage. Additionally, Tennessee’s Recreational Use Statute bestows upon property owners’ exemptions from liability for certain recreational activities, unless specific exceptions such as gross negligence come into play.

In conclusion, exploring the intricacies of Tennessee premises liability law demands a comprehensive understanding and strategic approach. As your dedicated legal partner, the Garza Law Firm stands prepared to navigate this intricate terrain alongside you, ensuring your rights are safeguarded and justice prevails. Remember, with knowledge comes power, empowering you to face any legal challenge with confidence.


550 W. Main Street #340
Knoxville, TN 37902

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