What must a Texas property owner do to keep you safe? It depends. They may have a lot of responsibility, or none at all.
Despite how the media makes slip and fall cases sound, the law regarding them is actually quite reasonable. It’s not like you can go from store-to-store all day long, looking for a dangerous condition, slip, fall, and collect a big payday.
The media presents stories that way and leaves out important facts to get you angry so you watch their story (and so they can then charge higher prices to companies who want to advertise on their station).
Texas’ premises liability law says both you and the property owner have responsibilities. And an owner’s responsibility toward you depends on your status (licensee, invitee, trespasser) when you’re on their property.
Take a closer look at how this works practically:
Responsibility Toward Invitees
“Invitee” is the most common status when injury cases arise. This means the property owner allows you to be on their property for business reasons. This includes a store’s customers – or even job applicants. Property owners have the highest degree of responsibility toward invitees.
The property owner must repair and correct known dangers. And they also must regularly inspect for, discover, and correct dangerous conditions. However, they only have a “reasonable” duty to do so and may not be liable in every case.
If they perform regular inspections and someone spills a drink all over their floor, they may not be liable for your injuries.
If you had awareness of the dangerous condition, if it was open and obvious, or if you misused the property of the owner, you may have no claim at all. Most injury claims involve licensees.
Responsibility Toward Licensees
A “licensee” has special permission from a property owner for a specific purpose. For example, this could be a plumber called in to repair leaky pipes.
In this case, property owners only have to repair and correct known dangerous conditions for the licensee. They do not have to actively inspect for and discover unknown dangerous conditions.
Responsibility Toward Children
Texas law covers “attractive nuisances.” This means something like a swimming pool or heavy machinery – something children would find interesting to play in, on, or around.
In this case, property owners have the responsibility to do everything they can to keep children away from the attractive nuisance. For a swimming pool, that may include a barrier. Although not necessarily a locked barrier.
If a property owner doesn’t take such measures, they then might be liable for any injuries suffered by a child.
Responsibility Toward Trespassers
Trespassers have practically no protection at all, and rightfully so. A property owner has no obligation to protect trespassers. And they may also not willfully injure trespassers.
For example, a farmer owns a field where local teens drive their cars, spin donuts, and ruin his property. That farmer cannot scatter nails about his property, hoping to poke holes in the tires of the teens’ cars.
Legally, a property owner cannot create a dangerous condition, fail to warn trespassers about it, knowing that it’s likely to cause harm to trespassers or their property.
That’s a quick guide to property owners’ responsibility towards you when you use their property. And if you find yourself injured, talk to a personal injury lawyer because they offer free consultations and can make sure you get fair compensation when appropriate.
What Does “Should Have Known” about a Dangerous Condition Mean?
Sometimes a property owner should have discovered a dangerous condition before someone was injured. If not compensation can likely be recovered. What does “constructive notice” mean?
You slip on a slick spot in a grocery store. You break your ankle. You have to miss a few weeks of work. Can you file a successful claim against the grocery store?
Notice we didn’t say the situation happened because of an employee who mopped a spot and forgot to put a sign or warning cone up.
Should the store owner have discovered the dangerous condition before your fall? Should they have warned you of the dangerous condition or eliminated same prior to your fall?
To win a claim or case like this, you will need to demonstrate the store knew about the dangerous condition (actual knowledge) or that they should have known about the dangerous condition (constructive knowledge).
Contrast these two examples: If the situation happened as described earlier – an employee mopped the floor and failed to put up a warning sign – the store “should have known” of the dangerous condition and is likely responsible for compensating you.
In fact, since a store employee created the dangerous condition actual knowledge of same will likely be presumed.
However, if another customer has a drink in the store, spills a little, leaves the scene and doesn’t bother to tell the store, and then you slip on it just a few minutes later, the store likely won’t be responsible.
The store will strongly argue they didn’t have a reasonable amount of time to learn of the spill and make the area safe.
On the other hand, they would likely be negligent if the spilled drink was on the ground for an hour as that would appear to be sufficient time for them to discover the dangerous condition.
What if an employee walked right by the spill 5 minutes before your fall? Arguably, the store might still be found to be negligent as store employees have an affirmative duty to scan the premises for dangerous conditions.
Most Property Owners Do an Honest Job of Caring for Their Property
When you get down to it, most property owners do the right thing. They’re honest and don’t want anyone to get hurt. And they don’t want to risk a costly lawsuit either.
To meet the “should have known” test, a few standards are checked:
- How long the dangerous condition has been present.
- What safety procedures did the person or store have in place.
- If you trip, did the object you tripped over have a valid reason to be there?
- Did the legitimate reason for the object you tripped over still exist at the time of your accident?
- Did you contribute to your own injury in some way? Were you on your smartphone? Did you go to a part of the store where customers aren’t allowed?
- Would a reasonable person have acted in the same way you did in your situation?
- Were employees near the dangerous condition at the time of your accident?
- Did the property owner provide adequate warning of the dangerous condition?
A premises liability case demands a detailed analysis based on the specific facts and circumstances of the loss. If you find yourself involved in one immediately contact a lawyer in Dallas for personal injury to discuss whether actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition can be established.
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Shane V. Mullen is an attorney licensed by the State of Texas for the general practice of law, and the Managing Partner at Mullen & Mullen Law Firm in Dallas, TX. His firm focuses exclusively on personal injury law and has been in business for 40 years (since 1983). Before becoming a lawyer, Shane worked for his father as an accident injury claims investigator.