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Is a Business Owner Responsible for a Car Accident That Occurs at the Exit to Its Parking Lot?


In any personal injury case, the plaintiff must establish the defendant owed them some “duty” or legal obligation. For instance, drivers on the highway owe a duty to other people on the road not to drive recklessly. But in other cases, the existence of a duty may not be as clear.

Court of Appeals: Property Owners Owed No Legal “Duty” to Injured Motorcyclists

Take this recent decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Howell v. Nelson Gray Enterprises. The issue in this case was whether a restaurant was responsible for an accident that occurred near the exit to its parking lot. This, in turn, required an examination of what legal duty, if any, the restaurant and related defendants owed to the accident victim.

The accident itself occurred near an intersection in Mountain City, Tennessee. The plaintiffs were riding their motorcycle at the location in question when it was struck by an Isuzu trooper. At the time, the Isuzu driver was “attempting to enter the highway” after leaving the restaurant’s drive-thru area.

The plaintiffs subsequently sued the owners of the restaurant and the underlying property. The lawsuit alleged the exit point where the Isuzu departed the restaurant qualified as an “unreasonably dangerous condition” because it promoted the “uncontrolled flow of vehicular traffic into a five-lane undivided highway without traffic control devices or warning signs.”

A trial court judge granted summary judgment to the defendants. The judge determined the restaurant’s exit point “conformed to all relevant standards” and did not constitute an “unreasonably dangerous condition” at the time of the accident. More to the point, the judge said the defendants “owed no duty” to the plaintiff, which would bar them from pursuing a personal injury claim even if the driveway was a hazard.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge. The appeals court cited an expert affidavit submitted by the defense, which explained the restaurant’s exit point conformed to the guidelines published by both the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

As for the duty of care, the Court of Appeals said the accident was the result of a “third party”–the Subaru driver–exiting the property. Assuming the accident was caused by the third party’s failure to yield, that would not create a legal duty on the part of the property owner, as it was not a “foreseeable” risk. Things might be different if there was a prior history of accidents at the exit point or some “obstacle that blocked the view of the non-party.” But that was not the case here. The appeals court therefore said the plaintiffs lacked legal grounds to continue their lawsuit.

Speak with a Tennessee Accident Attorney Today

When you are injured in an accident, it is critical to fully investigate the facts and circumstances that led to your injuries. An experienced Gatlinburg personal injury lawyer can help. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, if you need to consult with an accident attorney today.




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