Premises Liability for Landlords in Tennessee – Defect at Time of Lease

It is a basic premise of liability that landlords may be liable for known dangerous conditions that exist on their property and that harm tenants or guests. However, this liability is not unlimited, and landlords cannot be exposed to overly broad and endless requests for payments and reimbursements for injuries incurred.  Instead, Tennessee law limits liability so that landlords may only be held liable for those conditions that they have truly negligently failed to address. A recent case in the Court of Appeals of Tennessee illustrates how not all injuries and falls that occur on rented properties are ultimately the responsibility of the landlord.

In Fuller v. Banks, et al., Ms. Fuller, an 84-year-old tenant, sued her landlord for injuries she incurred after she fell while walking up the steps outside her apartment. Ms. Fuller was ascending the steps when a post that held the guardrail up gave way, causing Ms. Fuller to fall backward and break her arm. According to Ms. Fuller, bricks that formed the foundation holding the post also came loose and fell around her. However, when the landlord, Mr. Banks, called a repairman to address the issue, he did not see any loose bricks. Instead, it appeared to him that the post had come loose after being hit by a vehicle. Ms. Fuller filed a personal injury and premises liability lawsuit shortly thereafter, alleging that Mr. Banks had been negligent in failing to maintain the guardrail and had failed to conduct reasonable inspections of the guardrail.  In response, Mr. Banks alleged that the guardrail had not been damaged at the time the lease was signed and that Ms. Fuller had successfully ascended and descended the steps on many occasions without issue.  Had there been any signs that the guardrail was faulty and needed to be repaired, Ms. Fuller had failed to notify Mr. Banks of this fact, and he could not otherwise have known about the issue.

In Tennessee, a landlord may only be liable to a tenant for negligence for an injury resulting from an unsafe condition of which the landlord either had actual knowledge or reasonably should have known at the time the lease was signed. A landlord is not liable for dangerous conditions that arise after the rental is delivered over to the tenant. The Court of Appeals held, in considering a motion for summary judgment by Mr. Banks, that there was no evidence to suggest that Mr. Banks knew that the guardrail was faulty at the time the lease with Ms. Fuller was signed, which was 10 months before the accident occurred. Indeed, the evidence available suggested that the guardrail was not faulty at the time, since Ms. Fuller had utilized the guardrail and steps three or four times a day without incident until the day of the accident.  Although Ms. Fuller contended that the foundation holding the pole and guardrail was part of the issue and that the pole’s foundation was defective from the time the lease was signed, the court held that there was no evidence to support this fact beyond Ms. Fuller’s testimony that she saw bricks when she fell, and such testimony could not resolve the question of whether the foundation was faulty at the time the lease was signed.  Accordingly, the court determined that no genuine issue of material fact existed to show that Mr. Banks could have been liable for the injury Ms. Fuller incurred.

While tenants have the right to seek compensation and redress from landlords who fail in their duty to maintain reasonably safe premises, this case is a good reminder that landlords may not be held liable for every dangerous condition that arises. If you are a tenant who has recently been injured by dangerous conditions on your rental property, personal injury attorney Eric Beasley can assist you in evaluating whether a claim against your landlord is likely to be successful.  For more information on seeking redress and compensation for your injuries, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Courts Limit Liability for Property Owners with Minimal Control Over Day to Day Activities, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, March 17, 2016

Do Curbs For Wheelchair Ramps Constitute Dangerous Conditions in Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 27, 2016

The Role of Personal Injury Attorneys in Helping Slip and Fall Victims, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, February 15, 2013