Is The Property Owner At Fault For My Injuries?
Many people think that when they are injured on someone else’s property the property owner is automatically liable for their injuries. This is far from the truth. In fact, proving liability on the property owner is very difficult to do. This may seem unfair, but it is the law in Texas.
Every day in Texas, thousands of shoppers are injured in stores and businesses. Most of these injuries are caused by slip and falls or trip and falls. Sometimes, though, people are hurt because they stepped in a hole in the ground, or because merchandise was stacked unsafely, or because a store employee was doing something dangerous. While these injuries were caused by different means, they all come under the body of law known as PREMISES LIABILITY.
TEXAS LAW REGARDING PREMISES LIABILITY
Texas law classifies a premises liability victim into three categories: trespasser, licensee, and invitee; each of which places a different standard of care on the property owner. If the victim is a trespasser, for example, the property owner owes him only the slightest amount of duty to keep him safe. The next category, licensee, is a person who has the owner’s permission to be on the premises, but is there for his own purposes or amusement. An example of this would be the beer delivery man who is in the grocery store to stock the shelves with his brand of beer. The owner owes him a higher duty than the trespasser but not as much duty as he owes the invitee. The invitee is the customer, who is there at the property owner’s invitation, if you will. The owner not only wants the customer to come into his place of business, but needs him to come in order to stay in business. The law imposes the highest duty of care for the safety of the invitee. Most people who are hurt on another’s property are invitees, so I will focus the rest of this paper on how premises liability law applies to invitees.
DUTY OF CARE – WHAT DOES THE PROPERTY OWNER OWE YOU, THE CUSTOMER?
Basically, a property owner has a duty to keep his premises safe from any dangerous condition that he either knows exists or that he should reasonably know exists. The last part of that sentence, “either knows exists or that he should reasonably know exists” is usually the reason your case will be denied, as you will see in the paragraphs that follow.
EVALUATING YOUR CASE
An evaluation of your case will hinge on the answers to the following questions: Was your injury caused by a dangerous condition that existed on the premises? If so, can you prove that the owner or his employees were aware of the dangerous condition? If so, did the owner or his employees adequately warn you of the dangerous condition? If not, did they isolate the dangerous condition to keep customers from entering it, such as putting up cones or barricades? The wrong answer to any of these questions can torpedo your case.
Usually, this is the easiest part of the case to prove. Clients slip and fall or trip and fall because something is on the floor that shouldn’t be. A spill, an object, a hole, etc. Any of these can constitute a dangerous condition. Sometimes a client will tell me he doesn’t know what caused him to slip. He just slipped, but there was no wet spot on the floor, no foreign object, no nothing. If he can’t show me a dangerous condition, he doesn’t have a case.
KNOWLEDGE OF THE CONDITION
This is the hardest part to prove and, in slip and fall cases, is almost impossible to prove. A lot of times, especially when it involves a liquid substance, my client cannot identify the substance on the floor that caused him to slip. Was it a spilled drink? Melted ice cream? Dish soap? Usually, if you can’t tell me what the substance was, we won’t be able to show the employees were aware it was there.
But even if you can identify the substance, you still haven’t proved knowledge. It is almost impossible to prove who caused a spill. Most spills – whether they are cokes, water, coffee, or whatever – are caused by other shoppers. The law does not expect the store employees to follow every shopper around and make sure they don’t spill something. It is enough for the store to show that they routinely patrol the aisles for dangerous conditions that may exist. In the eyes of the law, they are reasonably making sure the premises are safe. If, in your case, you can show the store employee(s) knew the spill existed, then you can go to the next step.
DUTY TO WARN
If the employees have knowledge of a dangerous condition on their premises, the law imposes on them a duty to warn. This is usually done with signage – putting “wet floor” signs around a spill or when mopping, for example. If you fell on a wet floor around the corner from where an employee was mopping and there was not a warning sign anywhere in the area, you probably have a case. If there were no signs but you saw the employee mopping before you fell, you are out of luck.
DUTY TO ISOLATE THE CONDITION
Knowledge of a dangerous condition on the premises can also impose a duty to keep customers from the dangerous area. If there is an exposed electrical wire for example, a warning sign would not be enough. The store should make sure no one can touch that wire. Similarly, a hole in the floor will be roped off or barricaded so no one can step in it. Protective absorbent materials are usually placed on the floor in front of leaky coolers for example. This not only serves to keep people from the area where the water is leaking but also serves as notice that there must be a water leak coming from the cooler. If, however, you fall because the leak was not contained – usually because the employees cannot keep up with the volume of water and the water goes beyond the absorbent material – then you have proven the store knew about the dangerous condition, they failed to adequately warn, and they failed to adequately cordon it off. Congratulations, you have a case.
There are many other types of premises cases, such as swimming pool accidents, apartment grounds that are poorly maintained, dressing room doors that are improperly installed and fall on customers, poorly maintained automatic doors, and many others. For purposes of this paper, however, I focused on the most common type, and that is the slip and fall case which usually occurs inside a store. Although many people are seriously injured in such accidents, these are some of the hardest cases to prove. If you have been injured on someone else’s property, please give me a call for a free evaluation.
Law Offices of Robert Rodriguez