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As a Texas medical doctor and Personal Injury attorney, I am providing this information and commentary, in time for the Christmas holiday shopping. Premises liability victims have been injured because of the negligence of landowners, occupiers of land or property, and businesses that failed or refused to make the premises or location safe.

Many premises liability and slip and fall cases are lost by summary judgment dismissal without any recovery for the Plaintiff. This is because of the law in Texas governing premises cases; the plaintiff has to overcome many hurdles, most important of which is the notice provision. In other words how long was the dangerous condition present and did the owner/occupier of the premises have sufficient notice to make safe or issue a warning.

Premises liability injury cases cover a wide range of conditions in which people are injured or suffer a wrongful death on a commercial or residential property:

* Slip and fall injuries to the knee, hip, back or spine injuries when a customer slips on a wet floor that lacks signs to warn customers of slippery conditions at a store, club, salon, restaurant, etc.
* Trip and fall injuries such as bone and skull fractures when a convention guest trips on cleaning supplies left in a hallway or a rug that is frayed or bunched up in front of a door.
* Dog bites from a dog that is not restrained on its owner’s property.
* Being struck on the head or body by falling merchandise at a store.
* Suffering an injury from an elevator or a door with a broken closing device.
* Being sexually assaulted because a hospital did not provide security.
* Dram Shop liability because a bar served its customer drinks until he/she was intoxicated and then the customer drove and injured a person.

An owner or occupier of land has the duty to protect invitees and others (see below) from encountering and being injured by dangerous hazardous conditions and defects on the property, that they knew or should have known existed. The owner/occupier has a duty to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of these premises and to avoid exposing folks to an unreasonable risk of harm. It is this breach of duty that has to be proven by the plaintiff in Premises Liability cases.

“Slip and fall” or "trip and fall" accidents are the most common form of premises liability cases. Common everyday conditions or defects leading to premises liability accidents include wet slick floors, slippery surfaces, uneven floors or steps, cracked sidewalks, broken stair rails, falling objects, high-stacking merchandise, torn carpeting, poor lighting, inadequate security, dangerous conditions caused by inclement weather such as sleet, rain and ice, and failure to secure a swimming pool area etc.

I recently handled a case where an elderly woman tripped and fell in the entrance of a well known superstore, she tripped on the unsecured entrance mat and fell hard. She ended up fracturing her hip and her shoulder. Needless to say she has incurred significant medical expenses for a hip and shoulder replacement and pain and suffering. We settled that case at mediation for a confidential amount.

Texas law requires landowners and occupiers to routinely inspect the premises they own or occupy to discover any dangers or defects that exists, and to warn their tenants/employees/customers (their “invitees”) of known dangers, and to undertake reasonable precautions to prevent injury to their invitees BEFORE injury results. This is the duty that the law imposes on the owner and occupier of the premises.

The type and cause of the slip and fall accident is not the only factor – your recovery also depends on your relationship to the property owner; in other words your status at the time of injury. There are three different classifications, each of which carries different responsibilities for the property owners.

* Invitees are people who have been invited into an establishment, either directly or indirectly. For example you are an invitee to a retail store, even if the store didn't directly invite you in, or as an employee in the workplace. The burden of proof in a slip and fall accident case is to show that the property owner should have known about the hazard through reasonable care.
* Licensees are folks who have a license to enter an establishment. Examples include postal carriers, door to door salesmen or social guest. The injured have to prove that there was a specific defect causing the injury, and that the property owner knew about it, or should have know about it.
* Trespassers are people who have not been invited in any way to visit a property. An example would be a stranger who decided to walk in a neighbor's yard. If the individual injures himself through a slip and fall accident, he would not have a case unless there was no fence or a fence was wide open. Property owners are not required to provide any warnings about hazardous conditions unless they are very dangerous.

Regardless of the specific condition or defect or where the accident may happen, all property or building owners have a certain level of responsibility or duty to make sure an environment is safe. The issue of liability or fault depends upon whether the landowner or landholder had actual or constructive notice (knew or should have known) of the dangerous condition or defect that caused the accident.

In order to be successful in a premises liability lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew or should have known that the dangerous condition or defect existed causing the incident (notice), and that he was directly damaged as a result of this dangerous condition or defect. And that this injury was caused by and was foreseeable because of the dangerous condition or defect.

This notice provision is usually the hardest thing to prove in a premises liability lawsuit. Unless you can prove to the court that there was sufficient, significant and timely notice, most slip and fall cases get dismissed and the plaintiff does not get his day in court to prove up his damages.

Determining Financial Compensation
When a serious injury occurs there can be significant past and future medical costs, lost wages and pain and suffering arising from these types of accidents. Folks who have been injured because of the dangerous conditions are well advised to seek the advice of an attorney as soon as possible. It is imperative that any physical evidence relating to the injury event be preserved, accessed and recorded before it is removed or destroyed. Another consideration is the statute of limitations in Texas, which is 2 years from the date of the injury, on this type of tort claim which limits the time available to file a slip and fall premises liability lawsuit.

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