Tennessee Court Rules Defect Must Exist at Time Lease Is Executed in Premises Liability Case

In a recent premises liability case, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed a summary judgment order entered in favor of the defendants. In Fuller v. Banks (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 3, 2016), the plaintiff rented one side of a duplex from the defendants. The plaintiff was ascending the steps to her front porch when the post that held the guardrail gave way, causing her to fall and break her arm. The plaintiff brought a personal injury claim against the defendants, alleging that they were negligent in failing to maintain the stability of the guardrail, warn her of the risk, and inspect the guardrail. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that there was no evidence to indicate that the defect existed at the time the defendants leased the premises to the plaintiff.

Generally, a landlord is not liable to a tenant or a third party for harm caused by a dangerous condition on the leased premises. However, this general rule of a landlord’s non-liability is subject to several exceptions. One exception applies if the following facts are shown:  (1) the dangerous condition was in existence at the time the lease was executed; (2) the landlord knew or should have known of the dangerous condition; and (3) the tenant did not know of the condition and could not have learned about it through the exercise of reasonable care.

In Fuller, the defendants presented testimony from an expert who opined that the guardrail pole had been hit by a car at some time after the execution of the lease. He based his opinion on the fact that the pole showed no signs of rotting, and it had been pushed out toward the street with an indentation of a bumper. The defendants argued that they had no knowledge of any dangerous condition created by the incident if it had occurred. The plaintiff stated that the pole and railing had remained unchanged since she moved into the premises almost a year ago, and she had no difficulty in using the stairs prior to her accident. She did not notice anything wrong with the railing, nor had she notified the defendants of any problem with the premises.

On appeal, the court noted that the pivotal question in the case surrounded the condition of the guardrail and pole at the time of the execution of the lease, some 11 months prior to the fall. The court found that there was no evidence of record that the stairs or guardrail was defective at the time the lease was executed. In addition, the plaintiff had used the stairs without incident since she had been living there, including the day of the accident. As a result, the court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants.

Although some personal injury claims are more difficult to establish than others, a skilled attorney will be able to present favorable facts persuasively in front of a judge or jury. The Nashville accident attorneys at MHPS understand that premises liability cases require meticulous attention to detail, thorough preparation, and courtroom experience. We represent victims of slip and falls, motor vehicle collisions, medical malpractice, and other accidents. To discuss your case with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, contact us at (615) 800-7096 or online.

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