In all states, landowners have a basic duty of care to people who visit – even trespassers. There are many types of premises liability actions, such as dog bites, swimming pool incidents, toxic fumes, slip and falls, amusement park accidents and so on.
Basically, anyone who owns property, commercial or residential, and allows someone else to enter it owes that person a duty of care not to injure them.
The owner of a piece of property is responsible for injuries sustained by those who are present on the premises. The people on the premises are visitors, and they are classified as licensees, invitees or trespassers.
When it comes to accidents on a landowner’s property, a number of factors are examined to determine whether the landowner was reasonable and could have foreseen a particular incident:
Additionally, children have a higher standard of care, so landowners must pay special attention to them if they are on the property. Children do not have the capacity to understand dangers the same way adults do, and as such their duty of care is in proportion to their ability to foresee danger. While the liability of a property owner is still determined by ordinary negligence rules, a child would be judged based on his age and ability to comprehend risks.
Property owners must also understand the law of attractive nuisance, which states that they are liable for physical harm to children (regardless of whether they are trespassing) if there is a hazardous object on their land that kids cannot appreciate because of their age, like construction equipment or a gravel pit. Something like that will interest children, so landowners must put up barriers, lock doors, remove keys and take all other precautions possible.
In Texas, negligence claims and premises liability go hand in hand, much like other states.
The courts have stated that the crucial distinction lies in landowners failing to warn or make their property safe, while negligence claims arise from actions or omissions in the conduct of people.
Like elsewhere in the country, landowners have a duty to keep their premises in a safe condition. For someone to prevail on a premises liability claim based on a defect, the plaintiff has to illustrate that the defendant (the landowner) owed him a duty of care, he breached that duty, and that damages resulted. That duty of care, however, depends on whether the plaintiff was a licensee, invitee or trespasser. Texas is one of the states that still makes this distinction.
Other types of duties exist as well, like duties between landlord and tenants. Texas law states that landlords have several duties regarding premises in the care of tenants. They have a duty to disclose dangers and a duty of care as to common areas where they have kept possession.
If the landlord promises to make repairs, then they have to make those repairs with reasonable care. However, they do not become liable for existing defects just because they retain the right to enter the dwelling to make any necessary repairs.
What if someone is working on your house and injures himself?
For instance, an independent contractor could be cleaning your gutters while high up on a ladder, and then because the gutters aren’t properly attached, he falls to the ground from the second story.
Insurance questions aside, who is liable? Under Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a property owner is not liable for any injuries or death that occurs to a contractor arising from the failure to provide a safe workplace unless:
What about other types of third parties? As a general rule, in Texas a person has “no legal duty to protect another from the criminal acts of a third person or control the conduct of another.” Translated, this means you don’t have to step into a fight and stop people from hitting each other.
Of course, there are exceptions.
Texas has recognized limited exceptions to this general rule, like when there is a special relationship imposed, such as employer/employee, parent/child or independent contractor/contractee. If there’s any degree of control, then there’s a duty to intervene.
If you’re in control of that third person, you may owe a duty of care to foreseeably exposed individuals arising from that third person’s behavior.
Additionally, if you negligently create a dangerous situation, you have a duty to prevent injury from coming to others. Some factors are examined in these situations to see if you had a duty of care, such as:
These are weighed against your conduct and the burden of guarding against injury.
If the state of Texas were to somehow damage your property, Chapter 101 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code states (paraphrased) that a governmental unit can be liable for property damage, personal injury and death caused by the wrongful act or negligence of an employee if:
That’s a mouthful.
Basically, if the governmental entity was a private person and liable to the plaintiff, then he could be sued, but he would only owe the duty of care owed to a licensee in a premises liability claim.
This means he can’t willfully or wantonly injure anyone and has to warn of any known dangers.
In 2015, Texas courts ruled on a landmark case called Austin v. Kroger Texas LP. An employee was cleaning a Kroger restroom and managed to get through that just fine, but slipped and fell while cleaning another. He claimed that Kroger should’ve provided “Spill Magic,” which would’ve prevented his fall, but it was not in stock that day.
This is a true slip and fall premises liability case. Austin, the employee, knew about the danger beforehand. He was the one cleaning the spill. This case’s ruling actually helps defendants, because now there is no duty for shop owners to warn of known or obvious dangers.
The reason this case is important is because the Texas courts now treat non-subscribing workers compensation employers the same as subscribing employers. While non-subscriber employers owe a duty to provide employees with the necessary instruments to do their jobs safely, they don’t need to warn of obvious dangers – like wet floors.
There are two important exceptions to this: the criminal activity exception (in which an invitee and landowner are both aware of risks created by criminal activity of third parties) and the necessary use exception (in which a plaintiff has no choice but to use unsafe premises), both of which are rare.
A good attorney can help you figure this out. If you’ve been in a slip and fall or some other premises liability case, consider taking a look through the Enjuris Texas law firm directory for help!
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