§31.8 Latent Defect

The Case: Hawks v. City of Westermoreland, 960 S.W.2d 10 (Tenn. 1997).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiffs' were owners of a home which suffered extensive damage in a fire, brought suit against the Defendant city under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). Plaintiffs alleged that their home suffered extensive damage because firefighters could not open fire hydrants sooner because underground valves had been closed, rendering the hydrants inoperable.

The Bottom Line:

  • "The City also argues that it is immune from suit because the plaintiffs did not prove that the closed valves and inoperable fire hydrants were patently defective conditions rather than latent defective conditions. We disagree." 960 S.W.2d at 10.
  • "The GTLA provides that '[i]mmunity is not removed for latent defective conditions,' Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-204(b) (1980 Repl.), the Act does not condition the removal of immunity upon proof that injury resulted from a patently dangerous or defective condition. The City's argument that immunity is removed only if a plaintiff proves that the injuries resulted from a patently defective condition is contrary to the plain language of the statute and is without merit." Id. at 16-17.
  • "Moreover, 'latent defect'; has been defined as '[a] hidden or concealed defect. One which could not be discovered by reasonable and customary inspection.' [Black's Law Dictionary, 794 (5th ed. 1979)]. The Utah Supreme Court, in construing a statute which, like our own, provided that governmental '[i]mmunity is not waived for latent defective conditions,' also held that a latent defect is '[a] defect which reasonably careful inspection will not reveal.' Vincent v. Salt Lake County, 583 P.2d 105, 107 (Utah 1978). The closed valves and inoperable fire hydrants in this case could have been discovered by reasonable and customary inspection. Accordingly, as a matter of law, they were not latent defective conditions for which the City retained immunity." Id. at 17.

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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