§62.2 Duty to Independent Contractors Working on Premises

The Case: Blair v. Campbell , 924 S.W.2d 75 (Tenn. 1996).

The Basic Facts: Defendant hired Plaintiff to repair a duplex she had recently purchased. Part of Plaintiff's repair duties included fixing the roof, but in doing so Plaintiff was injured when part of the roof which had rotted gave way and Plaintiff sustained serious injuries.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Although a premises owner generally owes a contractor the duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace, we conclude that this duty does not apply when the contractor is injured while making the specific repairs called for in the contract. Since it is undisputed that the plaintiff was so injured in this case, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals and the trial court." 924 S.W.2d at 75-76.
  • "It is well-settled that an owner generally owes an independent contractor hired to perform work on the premises a duty to provide a reasonably safe place in which to work. Hutchison v. Teeter, 687 S.W.2d 286, 288 (Tenn. 1985); Broome v. Parkview, 359 S.W.2d 566, 568 (Tenn. App. 1962). This general duty includes the specific responsibility of either removing, or warning the independent contractor of, any hidden or latent dangers on the property. Eaton v. McClain, 891 S.W.2d 587, 595 (Tenn. 1994); Odum v. Haynes, [494 S.W.2d 795, 800 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1972)]; Jackson v. Tennessee Valley Authority, 413 F. Supp. 1050, 1056 (M.D. Tenn. 1976)." Id. at 76.
  • "An important exception to this general rule has, however, long been recognized in Tennessee law. In Shell Oil Co. v. Blanks, [330 S.W.2d 571 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1959)], a case in which a contractor hired to paint a steel lightpole on gas station premises brought suit after the pole collapsed and caused his ladder to fall, the Court of Appeals explained that:
    An exception to the general rule is recognized where the risks arise from, or are intimately connected with, defects of the premises or of machinery or appliances located thereon which the contractor has undertaken to repair. As to contracts for such repair work, it is reasoned that the contract is sufficient in itself to impart notice of a defect, the extent of which the repairman must discover for himself. This is merely to say that one assumes the risk of a known danger or of an undertaking which is inherently dangerous.
    Blanks , 330 S.W.2d at 571.FN1
    FN1 In deriving this rule, the Blanks court primarily relied upon [Annotation, Duty of Owner of Premises to Furnish Independent Contractor or His Employee a Safe Place of Work, Where Contract is for Repairs, 31 A.L.R. 2d 1375 (1953)]. When the annotation was published, an overwhelming number of jurisdictions adhered to this rule in some form. See cases collected at § 2. A review of the 'Later Case Service' to the annotation, published in 1995, reveals that this is still the law in most jurisdictions. Moreover, the annotation reveals several cases dealing specifically with roofers in which the rule, or some analogous form thereof, was applied to deny recovery as matter of law. See e.g., Grant v. Eastern Airlines, Inc., [556 So. 2d 1135 (Fla. Ct. App. 1989)]; Beckford v. Canessa, 613 N.Y.S.2d 659 (N.Y. App. Div. 1994); Muscat v. Khalil, [388 N.W.2d 267 (Mich. Ct. App. 1986)]."
    Id . at 76-77.
  • "The application of Blanks to the case before us yields a clear result. It is undisputed that Blair was specifically asked by Campbell to repair the porch roof because it was leaking. Although Blair was not told of the extent of the damage to the roof, and perhaps could not have known until he climbed the ladder, this is immaterial under Blanks: the repair contract itself is sufficient to put the contractor on notice of a defect in the premises, and it is the contractor's responsibility to determine the extent of the defect. The case before us obviously falls within the exception enunciated in Blanks; therefore, pursuant to that case the owner here was under no duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace to the contractor." Id. at 77.

Other Sources of Note: Bennett v. Trevecca Nazarene University , 216 S.W.3d 293 (Tenn. 2007) (finding gratuitous undertaking of duty to contractor as well as cause of action for negligent misrepresentation); Rice v. Sabir, 979 S.W.2d 305 (Tenn. 1998) (holding that a premises owner owed no duty of care to warn of existence of mildew on roof to contractor who was hired to trim trees).

Recent Cases: Ownby v. Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Corp. , No. M2008-00878-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 1392574 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 18, 2009) (reversing denial of motion to dismiss finding the exception to general duty of landowner to provide reasonably safe workplace applied); Garcia v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., No. E2006-02674-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 481897 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 22, 2008) perm. appeal denied (Aug. 25, 2008) (holding no duty on part of railroad company to warn where the presence of fuel in a fuel tank was common to that species of property such that it would be difficult for someone to conclude that anyone had superior knowledge of the continued presence of fuel in the tank).

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.

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