Tennessee Supreme Court Rules Preemption Rule Not Compatible with Comparative Fault

April 15, 2024

The “preemption rule,” which has been adopted in a number of jurisdictions around the country, limits injured plaintiffs’ ability to prove wrongdoing against employers because, so long as an employer admits that it is vicariously liable for an employee’s negligence, the employer’s own potential acts of misconduct for negligent supervision, hiring, training, or entrustment are not disclosed to the trier-of-fact.

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiff/Appellee, Melissa Binns, in the case of Melissa Binns v. Trader Joe’s East, Inc., M2022-01033-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. April 8, 2024), stating, “We hold that the preemption rule is incompatible with Tennessee’s system of comparative fault and decline to adopt it.”  In a unanimous decision, the Court held that:

    1. an employer can be held both directly liable for its own negligent conduct as well as vicariously liable for the negligent conduct of its employees (declining to adopt the preemption rule); and
    2. a plaintiff may pursue direct negligence claims against an employer concurrently with a premises liability theory.

The Binns ruling means that plaintiffs can simultaneously pursue claims against an employer for both its own direct negligence and its vicarious liability for an employee’s negligence. This ruling is a significant development in Tennessee, protecting rights of Plaintiffs to hold employers accountable for their actions or inactions that lead to a person’s injuries.

Representing Appellee Melissa Binns in this case were Donald Capparella, as lead appellate counsel, assisted by Tyler Chance Yarbro and Jacob A. Vanzin, from Dodson, Parker, Behm, and Capparella P.C., as well as John L. Griffith and Jonathan D. Lawrence of Griffith Law.

You can view the oral argument video at Melissa Binns v. Trader Joe’s East, Inc. | Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (tncourts.gov), or the opinion at https://tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/OpinionsPDFVersion/Majority%20Opinion%20-%20M2022-01033-SC-R11-CV.pdf