Tenant Salon Had No Duty to Clear Ice from Parking Lot

Where a business leased its store space in a shopping center, the lease provided that the landlord was responsible for the parking lot, and a customer entering the store had the option of parking on a clear parking lot and using clear sidewalks to enter the business, the business owed no duty to a customer who slipped and fell on ice near the curb.

In Newell v. First State Bank, Inc., No. W2017-01209-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 7, 2017), plaintiff was a customer at defendant tanning salon, and as she walked to her car after going to the salon she stepped “off the curb onto a snow and ice-covered portion of the parking lot where she had parked her car” and fell. Plaintiff brought a premises liability suit against the salon, as well as other defendants, though the salon was the only defendant relevant to this appeal.

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the landlord of the property was contractually liable for maintaining the parking lot and that plaintiff’s “own testimony indicated that she appreciated that there was slush surrounding her car that could be slippery, and she failed to use proper caution.” The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding that defendant did not owe a duty to plaintiff, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Despite the lease provision stating that the landlord was responsible for the parking lot, plaintiff asserted that defendant salon “owed her a duty with respect to the parking spaces because the parking spaces were located approximately fifteen feet from [the salon’s] door.” Further, plaintiff argued that “the spaces constituted part of [the salon’s] approach, and [defendant] owed her a duty to provide a safe ingress and egress by removing the slush from the parking spaces or warning her.”

Looking to Tennessee case law, the Court noted that “a lessee does not have a duty to a customer, injured in the common parking area of a shopping center, when the lessee has not exercised control over the parking lot and the lessee’s lease provides that the lessor is responsible for maintaining the safety of the common areas.” (internal citation omitted). Plaintiff attempted to show that defendant had exercised control over the parking lot by pointing out that defendant had a policy that its employees not park in the spaces closest to the salon. The Court held, though, that this policy was “an attempt to control employees, not parking spaces,” and that such a policy did not create a duty.

Regarding plaintiff’s argument that the parking spaces were part of the “approach” to the salon, the Court pointed out that “the area around the entrance to [the salon] and the entire parking lot was completely free of ice on the day that she fell—except for the parking spaces in which she chose to park.” Plaintiff “used her car to steady herself on the way inside” and was aware of the slush, and she “could have safely entered [the salon] without walking through the slush by walking through the clear parking lot and utilizing the clear sidewalks or ramps to avoid injury.” The Court held that, based on the facts of this case, the spaces were not part of the approach for purposes of establishing a duty. Summary judgment was thus affirmed.

The facts of this case were not on plaintiff’s side. In a mostly clear parking lot, plaintiff chose to park in one of the only spaces with slush. In light of this choice and the lease provision regarding the landlord controlling the parking lot, plaintiff’s case against the salon was unlikely to succeed. Indeed, many slip-and-fall cases involving ice are tough cases for the plaintiff in Tennessee.  Lawyers for the plaintiff are urged to read Tennessee case law before taking on such a case.