Tennessee Supreme Court Holds Hotel is Not Liable for Independent Contractor’s Negligence

bathroomBusiness owners generally have a duty to ensure that their premises are in a safe condition for the benefit of their patrons. Sometimes, however, dangers are hidden out of sight. In these circumstances, a business may still be liable for any injuries that occur as a result of the danger. The Supreme Court of Tennessee recently examined one such case, but found that without notice of the danger, a business was not liable for negligent work done by a contractor.

In Parker v. Holiday Hospitality Franchising, Inc., the plaintiffs were a married couple from Tennessee who were staying in the defendant’s hotel while they visited family in California. Since the husband had been paralyzed from the waist down due to a prior accident, the couple requested a handicap-accessible hotel room. After checking in, the plaintiffs noticed that the shower bench in their bathroom appeared to be loose and not fully secured to the shower wall. They reported the problem to the front desk, who assured them that the bench would be fixed.

The maintenance man employed by the hotel inspected the shower bench, and while finding that it did not appear to be loose, tightened the bolts holding the bench to the shower wall. Both the maintenance man and the plaintiffs then examined the bench, which was seemingly secure. However, the next morning, the husband was using the bench in the shower when it suddenly collapsed. The collapse caused the gentleman to fall to the floor, causing numerous bodily injuries. The plaintiffs reported the accident to the hotel management, who provided a different handicap-accessible room for the duration of their stay. Nevertheless, the husband discovered that he had fractured three vertebrae in his spine and suffered from a number of additional medical issues following the fall.

The plaintiffs sued the hotel and its various business entities for damages including medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. The plaintiffs also made a claim for punitive damages. In response, the hotel claimed negligence against the company that constructed the shower and installed the bench. The plaintiffs attempted to assert claims against the builder, but their claims were dismissed by the trial court. The hotel then requested that the claims against it also be dismissed, since it was not liable for the independent contractor’s work. The trial court agreed with the hotel and dismissed the claims against it. However, the appeals court found that the hotel may have had constructive notice that the shower bench was dangerous, and that a jury should determine whether the hotel proprietor should have discovered the dangerous condition through the exercise of reasonable care.

The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee. The high court noted that the success of the appeal depended on whether the hotel had notice of the dangerous condition of the shower bench prior to the plaintiff’s accident. Despite the fact that the plaintiffs had requested that the bench be repaired, the high court emphasized that there had never been a complaint about the bench prior to its collapse. Moreover, the allegedly defective condition of the shower bench was hidden behind the tiled wall of the shower, out of plain sight. Finally, the Supreme Court noted that both the plaintiffs and the maintenance man had inspected the shower bench the night before it collapsed. The Supreme Court found the evidence established that the proprietor of the hotel relied on the builders to construct the structure in a reasonably safe manner, and that there was no notice that the installation of the shower bench was defective. Furthermore, according to the Supreme Court, Tennessee law does not impose an obligation on a hotel proprietor to inspect a builder’s work or test the integrity of any structure, absent any indication of a problem. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims.

If you or someone you love has suffered a bodily injury as the result of another’s negligent act, you need the assistance of a skilled lawyer. It is not always easy to prove negligence, but an experienced attorney can utilize their resources in order to get you the best possible result in your case. The Nashville injury attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard are recognized for resolving personal injury claims. For an initial consultation, contact one of our attorneys today by emailing info@mhpslaw.com, or call (615) 800-7096.

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