Visitors Beware When You Check Into Tennessee Hotels

On May 12, 2010, Greg and Diane Parker, came to Tennessee from their home in California to visit Ms. Parker’s father. Mr. Parker was paralyzed from the waist down, so the couple rented a handicap accessible room at the Holiday Inn Express in Harriman, Tennessee.  After they checked in, they took a look at the bathroom and noticed a “gap between the shower bench and the wall”, and that the bench was loose. They reported the problem and requested a different room, but none was available. Hotel staff assured Mr. Parker that someone would repair the shower bench. They left for dinner, and their upon return they inspected the shower bench. It seemed to be repaired, “bolted up flush to the wall like it should be.” Mr. Parker pushed on the shower bench, and it did not “shake or sound loose.”  The next morning he went into the bathroom to shower, transferred himself from his wheelchair to the shower bench and had been showering for approximately ten minutes when the bench suddenly collapsed.  He was injured.

Shouldn’t the hotel owner/operator be held responsible?  A guest checks in, notices a problem and the hotel sends in a maintenance man to tighten the bolts, but it collapses anyway, injuring a disabled person.  Sounds like a no-brainer, but not to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Incredibly, in Parker v. Holiday Hospitality Franchising, 2014 Tenn. LEXIS 638 (9/12/14), the Supreme Court absolved the hotel of all responsibility.  The hotel was built in 2006 by D&S Builders, who had improperly installed the shower bench without using proper blocking to secure it to the interior wall.  The contractor could not be sued due to Tennessee’s four year statute of repose on negligent construction claims, T.C.A. §§ 28-3-202 and 203.  The hotel owner had accepted the contractor’s work and opened the hotel to the public.  However, he claimed to have no notice of the defective condition of the shower bench, even though they sent a maintenance man to adjust it after the guest complained!

According to the Supreme Court, “The general rule in Tennessee is that a property owner is not vicariously liable for injuries third parties sustain from the negligence of an independent contractor who performs work for the property owner.”

”We hold that the undisputed facts fail to establish either the accepted work doctrine exception or the nondelegable duty to the public exception to the general rule that property owners are not liable for the negligence of independent contractors. We also hold that the undisputed facts establish that Mr. Patel had neither actual nor constructive notice of the defective condition created by the independent contractor’s negligence.”

Contrast this extremely unfair outcome involving a Tennessee hotel with the decision in Bright v. Sandstone Hospitality LLC, A13A1811 (3/26/14), where the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment to the owner of a Wingate branded hotel in Kennesaw, Georgia that had similarly denied responsibility for a defective grab bar in a shower/bathtub, blaming the contractor who built the hotel several years before.  That case was recently settled after mediation for $250,000 with Hu Hamilton as lead counsel for the plaintiff.

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