Blue Chipper – Premises Liability

Coln v. City of Savannah, 966 S.W.2d 34 (Tenn. 1998), is a must-know for anyone handling a slip and fall or trip and fall case in Tennessee. Indeed, it is important reading for anyone handling any type of premises liability case in this state. It is the first Tennessee Supreme Court decision in the field after the adoption of comparative fault.

Be sure to read both the majority opinion and the concurring opinion to see a philosophical divide on the subject as wide as the one between Nietzsche and St. Thomas Aquinas.

In my mind, the Tennessee Supreme Court has unduly complicated the job of a trial judge in the typical premises liability case. I agree with Judge Holder’s concurring opinion – there is no need to undertake a duty analysis is the typical premises liability case.

The almost seven years that have passed since the release of this opinion have demonstrated the problems with it. Judges struggle with duty analysis in cases where they should not have to but feel they must. While I agree that “duty” is a threshold question in every case, I think that this opinion unduly complicates what should be a simple inquiry. In my opinion, the typical trial judge will see one or two honest-to-God duty issues a year – in the rest of the cases duty is a non-issue.

Nevertheless, the criteria for a “blue chipper” is not whether I agree with an opinion but rather its importance to tort lawyers in Tennessee. This opinion meets all the necessary criteria for a “must-know.”

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