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When Is a Tennessee Business Liable for the Death of an Independent Contractor

Every Tennessee business owner owes a basic “duty of care” to individuals they invite onto their property. This includes not only customers but also independent contractors performed to work on the premises. But that does not automatically mean a business owner is liable for every personal injury that occurs on their property.

Tennessee Court Announces “Security Guard” Exception

Recently the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed the premises liability of a business owner for an independent contractor who was, tragically, killed on its property. The defendant, the owner of an apartment complex in Memphis, hired an outside contractor to provide security services. The victim in this case was a security guard employed by that contractor.

On the day in question, two men ran into the courtyard of the apartment complex and fired multiple gunshots at the victim, who was working at the time. His widow subsequently filed a premises liability claim against the apartment complex owner. The defendant argued that it was not responsible for what happened.

The Court of Appeals, upholding an earlier decision by a trial judge, agreed with the defendant. The appeals court explained that premises liability, a form of negligence, requires the plaintiff to establish that the defendant owed a “duty of care” to the victim that was then breached. In the specific context of premises liability, this means that a business owner must exercise “reasonable care” to protect invited guests and outside parties “against unreasonable risks of harm.”

Here, the widow argued that the defendant failed to maintain a safe workplace, and that failure led to her husband’s death. But as the court explained, Tennessee courts recognize an “independent contractor exception” that absolves the business of owner of responsibility for individuals, like the victim, who voluntarily take a job where there are known dangers.

While Tennessee judges have traditionally limited this independent contractor exception to people who perform repair work or similar services, the Court of Appeals here decided it now extends to individuals employed as security guards. The appeals court noted that judges in other states have reached similar conclusions—namely that a security guard “cannot recoup damages for harm that was allegedly caused by performing the basic duty he was hired to perform.”

That said, the Court of Appeals said a property owner may “voluntarily assume a duty of care to the independent contractor,” which would make it liable for a security guard’s death or injury. Unfortunately for the widow here, the service contract between her late husband’s employer and the defendant did not contain any express language assuming such a duty. Consequently, the court declined to find the apartment complex had any responsibility for the security guard’s safety.

A Clinton Personal Injury Attorney Can Help

If you have been injured on someone else’s property, you should seek assistance from an experienced Clinton personal injury attorney who can advise you on the owner’s potential liability. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you would like to speak with someone about your case today.

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