Why Are Premises Liability Cases Difficult in Texas?
People often think that just because they are injured on someone else’s property, whether it was a business or if they were a guest at someone’s home, the property owner would automatically be responsible. That’s not the case.
Under Texas law, you have to prove that the property owner, whether it was a home owner or a business owner, was aware or should have been aware that there was some dangerous condition on the property. You also have to prove the property owner either failed to correct the condition or failed to provide a warning of the condition.
The duty the property owner owes someone on their property depends on why the person is on the property in the first place. In a case where the person is trespassing, the property owner only owes a duty to not injure the person intentionally.
Most people at a grocery store or some other business would be what is called an invitee – meaning the person is on the property for the mutual economic benefit of the property owner and the person. In that situation, you would have to prove that the property owner either (1) was actually aware there was a dangerous condition or (2) should have known there was some dangerous condition on their property.
It typically is difficult to prove the owner had actual knowledge. I had as a case where my client slipped on a freshly mopped floor. After he fell, he went to an employee and obtained a hand-written note saying they had mopped the floor and forgotten to put out a warning cone. In this case, the note was evidence that the property owner actually knew about the freshly mopped floor and lack of a warning.
In most cases, the victim would not be able to prove the property owner actually knew there was a dangerous condition. Instead, we have to try to prove the property owner should have known the condition was present.
Texas law is very specific regarding this “should have known” element. The victim would have to prove specifically how long the dangerous condition was present. For example, suppose someone slipped in a spilled liquid in a grocery store. The store’s defense would typically be that someone might have spilled that substance only seconds before the fall (a child dropped a sippy cup or another customer dropped a bottle of water). If the jury believes the defense, then the store will likely not be responsible since they did not have an opportunity to know about the slippery condition and therefore did not have a chance to correct it. For this reason, the law in Texas is very clear that the victim must prove how long they condition existed. This type of proof is often impossible unless there is video footage from the store.
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