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When Can an Independent Contractor Sue a Property Owner for Work-Related Injuries?


According to the Tennessee Supreme Court, a property owner in Tennessee normally owes a legal duty to an independent contractor hired to work on the premises to “provide a reasonably safe place in which to work.” But there is a critical exception to this rule: The owner is not liable for any personal injury to the independent contractor “where danger is inherent in the work being performed.”

TN Hospital Faces Lawsuit After Patient Attacks Security Guard

In some cases, Tennessee courts have extended this independent contractor exception to individuals hired to work as security guards. After all, there is inherently some risk of physical danger in that line of work. Yet a property owner cannot automatically assume that security guards are “on their own.” Indeed, in a recent case, Foust v. Douglas, the Tennessee Court of Appeals actually reinstated a personal injury lawsuit brought by security guard against a hospital where he was injured while providing his services.

The plaintiff here worked for a security company. The company had a contract with a hospital in Newport, Tennessee, and assigned the plaintiff to work there. One evening, local police arrived at the hospital with a patient who was “intoxicated and behaving belligerently,” according to court records. Hospital staff subsequently called the plaintiff to the emergency room to assist with the patient, who was handcuffed to his bed.

Sometime later, one of the nurses in the ER directed the plaintiff to remove the patient’s handcuffs. The plaintiff complied. The patient then attacked the plaintiff. During the ensuing struggle, the plaintiff fell to the floor and injured his left shoulder.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against a number of parties, including the patient who attacked him and the hospital. The hospital filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging it “did not owe a legal duty” to the plaintiff because of the independent contractor exception. The trial judge agreed and dismissed the hospital from the case.

But the Court of Appeals reversed. It noted the “undisputed facts” in this case showed that while the plaintiff “was aware that he would have to deal with unruly or violent patients in the course of his work,” that did not relieve the hospital of its duty of care towards the plaintiff. Indeed, the facts also showed that “the decision to remove [the patient’s] restraints was within the discretion of [the hospital’s] healthcare providers” and did not arise under the security guard’s status as an independent contractor. In other words, given that hospital staff ordered the plaintiff to remove the restraints, that presented a plausible claim that the hospital “assumed” a duty to ensure the plaintiff’s safety.

Speak with a Pigeon Forge Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you have been injured while on someone else’s property, you may have a claim for damages if the owner’s negligence contributed to your injuries. An experienced Pigeon Forge personal injury lawyer can review your case and help you decide whether legal action is appropriate. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our legal team today.



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