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Tennessee Court Holds No Duty to Keep Parking Spots Safe

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Tennessee premises liability actions can arise under any circumstances in which a property owner fails to take care of dangerous conditions or does not warn guests of existing hazards. In the winter, however, these kinds of actions can become even more common as guests and customers attempt to navigate their way through snow, ice, and everything in between. As the below case illustrates, landlords and tenants must be conscious of the dangers imposed by winter weather.

In this parking lot case, T.N. was leaving a tanning session at Elite Beach Tanning Company when she slipped and fell on ice hidden below a pile of slush. T.N. did not realize the ice was there as she stepped down, fell, and injured herself. At the time of the fall, T.N. was in a parking lot adjacent to Elite, which was owned by the landlord, First Bank. T.N. sued Elite, First Bank, and the company responsible for maintaining the parking lot for her injuries. After initial discovery, Elite moved for summary judgment by arguing that T.N. could not establish that Elite owed her a duty to keep the parking spaces safe. As support for the motion, Elite attached a copy of its lease agreement with First Bank, which clearly stated that First Bank was responsible for maintaining common areas, including the parking lot. Given this agreement, the lower court granted the motion for summary judgment. T.N. was granted an interlocutory appeal and appealed to the Court of Appeals.

On appeal, T.N. argued that Elite owed her a duty to protect her from dangers in the parking spaces for two reasons. First, she argued that Elite assumed control over the parking spaces when it kept them free from employee cars and directed customers to park there. Second, she argued that since the parking spots were only 15 feet away from Elite’s front door and could clearly be seen, they constituted part of Elite’s approach, for which Elite was responsible.

The Court of Appeals noted, first and foremost, that prior Tennessee case law has generally held that when a tenant can show that its rental agreement provides for a landlord to take care of common areas, the tenant generally cannot be held liable for a dangerous condition in those common areas. Moreover, the Court noted that Elite’s direction to employees not to park in the closest parking spaces reserved for customers was not an attempt to control parking spaces, thereby creating a duty, but an attempt to control employees, which was an entirely different issue. With regard to T.N.’s argument that the parking spaces constituted an approach to Elite’s store, the Tennessee Court of Appeals held that this was simply factually inaccurate. Pictures of the scene showed that Elite had kept its doorway and sidewalks clear of ice and snow, but it had not done so with the parking spaces because they were so far away. To the extent that an area could constitute an approach, the court held that Elite had sufficiently safeguarded it, and any other common areas were simply not Elite’s responsibility.

Clarifying liability between landlords and tenants can be complex, particularly with issues like winter weather or other environmental conditions. While some tenants and landlords may be fortunate enough to have agreements that clearly spell out their obligations to each other, this will not always be the case. Instead, plaintiffs and defendants must sometimes turn to questions of control, who observed what, and how common areas have traditionally been handled in order to make arguments for and against liability.

When considering a claim against a tenant or landlord for a slip and fall injury, it is important to carefully investigate their relationship and determine who has which obligations for each part of the premises.  Knowledgeable premises liability attorney Eric Beasley can help seek out necessary documents, talk with important witnesses, and further investigate the circumstances of your claim. If you have recently been injured and are uncertain about your rights, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Rejects Claim that Doorframe Was Dangerous Condition, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 9, 2017.

Tennessee Court Grants Summary Judgment When No Risk Could Have Been Anticipated, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 21, 2017

Tennessee Court Finds No Claim of Emotional Distress Exists for Property Damage, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 6, 2017