Some people think that just because they get injured on someone else’s property, the property owner is liable. This is simply not the case in Texas. Whether a property owner is liable when someone falls and is injured on their property depends upon what caused the person to fall and what the property owner knew at the time. If there is a dangerous condition on the property and the owner was aware of that condition, then the owner may be liable when someone else who is unaware of the danger is injured as a result. Liability is based upon express or implied knowledge and inaction.
What Must a Person Prove in a Property Owner Liability Case?
Property owner liability, or premise liability, is established when the injured party proves:
- there was an unreasonably dangerous condition,
- the owner was aware of the condition before the injury,
- the victim was unaware or unable to appreciate the dangerous condition,
- the property owner fails to warn them of the dangerous condition or remedy the condition, and;
- the victim sustained injuries as a result of the condition.
What Constitutes an Unreasonably Dangerous Condition?
Anything that poses a potential hazard to people whom the owner has invited onto the property may be an unreasonably dangerous condition. It is considered ‘unreasonable’ when the owner knows or should be aware that the condition exists and poses a threat to others and then the owner chooses to allow it to remain on the property regardless of the knowledge.
Cracks in the Sidewalk Cases
Often, whether a property owner is liable for defects in a sidewalk depends upon not just the above facts, but also upon who has control. Does the City own it or the business owner? If the City has a sidewalk easement, the City faces extra protections under the doctrine of Sovereign Immunity. See: Is the City Liable for Defects in the Sidewalk?
Slip and Trip Hazards in Stores and Businesses
Stores owe a special duty to prospective customers. They are considered invited guests because the store opens its doors to the public and “invites” them in. However, this does not make them insurers of their patron’s safety. The trick in many of these cases is proving that the store was aware of the condition or that the condition was present long enough that they should have known. If you cannot establish this, you cannot prove your case.
Large companies like Lowes, Home Depot, or Walmart are aware of these challenges in proving these cases, so they set up practices and procedures to take advantage of this. Video footage that shows the source of the slippery condition does not get preserved unless a specific legal request is made. So if you slip and fall at Walmart, Kroger, or get injured in a Lowes accident another big company like that, it is wise to consult an attorney early on.
The Open and Obvious Defense
Because liability is based upon the property owner being aware of a dangerous condition that the customer is not aware of, it is a defense to these cases to show that the condition was so open and obvious that the victim should have seen it. This defense is not an absolute bar to liability in Texas, but it can reduce or even eliminate liability when the jury compares the negligence of the injured party to that of the property owner.
What If the Fall Was Caught by a Video Camera?
Video footage of a fall is beneficial in understanding how a fall happened. But it is not the proverbial smoking-gun evidence. If you have video footage going back far enough, sometimes you can determine how long a dangerous condition was present before the fall occurs. Whether the property owner should have discovered it and remedied it within that time is often a question for the jury. When the video shows the condition started through no action by the property owner and that it began only a short time prior to the fall, this can be strong evidence that the owner is not liable. So video footage can make or break you. It can also disappear if you take no action to preserve all of the video footage. This is why speaking to a slip and fall lawyer early on after a fall in a store is advisable.
Falls in Parking Lots
Unfortunately, people often encounter slip and trip hazards in parking lots. Wheel stops can be a tripping hazard at night if there is poor lighting or they are not painted so as to not blend in with the concrete. Curbs and steps can be a trip hazard as well. These types of trip and fall cases tend to be very fact-specific when it comes to determining liability. They also tend to raise defenses such as the condition is open and obvious in these cases.
In summary, Texas landowners are not liable just because someone fell down and got injured on the property. The injured party has the burden to prove that an unreasonably dangerous condition was present, the owner knew or should have known and the owner failed to act. These required elements must be shown whether it is a trip or a slip or simply a fall. Otherwise, the property owner is not liable in Texas.