The existence of a duty owed to a plaintiff by a defendant in a Tennessee personal injury case is a necessary ingredient in every negligence action. The existence and scope of a defendant’s duty are questions of law to be determined by the court (Staples v. CBL & Assocs., Inc., 15 S.W.3d 83, 89 [Tenn. 2000]).
In Tennessee, business owners are held only to an ordinary duty of care in premise liability actions. However, if the defendant is an amusement ride operator in Tennessee, then the defendant will be held to the heightened standard of care that common carriers owe to their passengers (Lyons v. Wagers, 55 Tenn. App. 667, 675, 404 S.W.2d 270, 274 ).
An amusement park operator is subject to a heightened standard of care in Tennessee, which is the standard that is applied to common carriers who have full physical control over their passengers for a time. The operator of an amusement ride owes his patrons the same degree of care owed by a common carrier to its passengers, which the Tennessee Court of Appeals has held is “the highest degree of care—that care which the most prudent man would be expected to exercise under circumstances similar to those shown in evidence, in the design, construction, maintenance, inspection, and repair of his vehicle and its approaches and exits. The rationale underlying the heightened standard of care is that unusual risks are inherent in mechanical amusement park rides and, therefore, that amusement ride operators should make their rides as safe as possible with proper inspection, maintenance and repair.” Tennessee State Fair Ass’n v. Hartman, 134 Tenn. at 163, 183 S.W. at 736; Lyons v. Wagers, 55 Tenn. App. at 676, 404 S.W.2d at 274; Banner v. Winton, 28 Tenn. App. at 73, 186 S.W.2d at 223.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals has also held that common carriers are bound to the utmost diligence which human skill and foresight can effect, and if injury occurs by reason of the slightest omission in regard to the highest perfection of all the appliances of transportation…the carrier is responsible (Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v. Hutcherson, 8 Tenn. App. 235, 1928 WL 2015, at *6 [Tenn. Ct. App. 1928]).
Under the heightened standard of care applicable to amusement ride operators, evidence of mere compliance with safety regulations does not relieve one of tort liability for failure to exercise the highest degree of care (City of Elizabethton v. Sluder, 534 S.W.2d 115, 117 [Tenn. 1976]).
This heightened duty not only applies when an individual is actually riding on an amusement device, but also when they are entering or exiting the amusement device (Schindler v. Southern Coach Lines, 217 S.W.2d 775 [Tenn. 1949] at 779). In Schindler, the plaintiff was injured when she was attempting to enter a bus. The plaintiff was hurrying to catch a bus and the doors were closed. She requested that they be opened. The bus driver opened the doors but when they opened they knocked the plaintiff to the ground, causing serious injury. The plaintiff alleged that the bus driver had a duty to make certain that she would not be hit by the bus doors as they opened and that the bus driver’s failure to perform this duty resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. The Tennessee Supreme Court held: the defendant owed to the plaintiff the highest degree of care for her safety consistent with the general practical conduct of its business (Greyhound Lines, Inc. v. Patterson, 14 Tenn. App. 651, 656, 657; Tennessee Coach Co. v. Young, [80 S.W.2d 107]). ‘There would seem to be general accord upon the proposition that the same high degree of care is required of the carrier as to passengers when entering or leaving the vehicle as when being transported therein.’ ([10 Am. Jur. § 1348, 924], Id. at 779).
Our award-winning Amusement Park Accident Attorneys at Green, Waters Ogle and McCarter have successfully litigated amusement park cases throughout East Tennessee, and we would love to help you navigate your injury case.