Tennessee Slip and Fall Laws

A look at the statutory lawsuit filing deadline and "comparative negligence" rules that could affect your Tennessee slip and fall case.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law

After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Tennessee, it's probably a good idea to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses. That's especially true when it's fairly clear that the property owner's negligence played a part in the accident.

Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Tennessee laws and legal rules will almost certainly affect your case. Two of the most important of these are the statute of limitations deadline for filing a slip and fall lawsuit, and "shared fault" rules that can affect your right to recover compensation if you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. Read on for the details.

The Slip and Fall Statute of Limitations in Tennessee

A statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on your right to have a lawsuit heard in the state's civil court system. Specific time limits vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.

The key thing to know here is that if you try to file your slip and fall lawsuit after the deadline set by the statute of limitations has passed, the person you're trying to sue will bring that fact to the court's attention, and the court will almost certainly grant a motion to dismiss your case. That's why it's so crucial to understand how this law applies to your situation. (In some rare situations the statute of limitations clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your case started. Talk to an attorney for the details on these exceptions in Tennessee).

In Tennessee, there are a few different lawsuit filing deadlines that could affect a slip and fall case.

First, if you have been injured in a slip and fall incident and you intend to file a lawsuit against the property owner or other defendant, Tennessee Code section 28-3-104 dictates that the injury case be filed in Tennessee's civil court system within one year of the date of the incident.

(Note: In rare cases where a slip and fall results in someone's death, any wrongful death claim brought by the deceased person's representatives is subject to the same one-year lawsuit filing deadline. The only difference is that the "clock" starts running on the day of the person's death, which could be later than the date of the slip and fall itself.)

Second, a property damage lawsuit stemming from a slip and fall -- maybe you were uninjured when you fell, but you broke an expensive watch and you want the property owner to replace it -- must be filed against any potential defendant within three years, according to section 28-3-105 of the Tennessee Code.

A slip and fall case will almost certainly hinge on whether the property owner's negligence was the cause of your accident. A number of considerations come into play in making this kind of determination. Learn more about proving fault for a slip and fall.

Comparative Negligence in Tennessee Slip and Fall Cases

You're making a slip and fall claim, only to hear the property owner argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. It's a common tactic in every slip and fall case in every state, and Tennessee is no exception. And if the property owner is successful in pinning some of the legal blame on you, any settlement or court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been, or you may end up with no compensation at all.

What arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Here are a few examples:

  • The dangerous property condition should have been obvious to you.
  • The dangerous condition was cordoned off by cones and signage.
  • You weren't paying sufficient attention to where you were walking.
  • You were wearing footwear that was inappropriate under the circumstances.

If your Tennessee slip and fall case makes it to court, and the jury finds that you bear some amount of legal blame for what happened, the state's "comparative negligence" rules will be applied to determine how much compensation (if any) you can still receive from the property owner.

Under "comparative negligence," any damages award a personal injury plaintiff receives will be reduced according to the percentage of their fault. So, let's say the jury finds that you are 10 percent responsible for your slip and fall in Tennessee. They also find that your damages (including your medical bills, lost income, and "pain and suffering") total $20,000. That will leave the property owner on the hook for $18,000 (that's the original $20,000 minus the 10 percent that represents your share of fault).

It's important to note that if you're deemed more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, under Tennessee law you can't recover anything at all from the property owner or anyone else.

That's how shared fault works in Tennessee personal injury cases if your slip and fall case makes it all the way to trial. And even if your case doesn't make it to trial -- even if a lawsuit isn't actually filed, for that matter -- Tennessee's comparative negligence rule will still be a factor. During settlement negotiations, the property owner's insurance company (and/or their attorney) are concerned with what might happen if your case does wind up in court. So you can expect any settlement offer to reflect the other side's view of the part you played in causing or contributing to the slip and fall. That's why it becomes so important to make a strong case against the property owner. (Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.)

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