Find out how Texas views premises liability if you’ve been injured on someone else’s property
Written by: Enjuris Editors
Premises liability holds a Texas landowner responsible for injuries that occur to others while they’re on his property.
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.
Premises liability basics
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.
Licensees: This is a person to whom a license is granted by the landowner. He or she is licensed to remain on the property only with the owner’s consent. The owner has a duty to warn the licensee of any dangers on the property known to the owner but not to the licensee (dangerous areas, spots preferred by bears, overrun thickets, etc.).
Invitees: These individuals are given express or implied invitations by the owner, either for some mutual benefit or something that is being conducted on the property itself. This status is not absolute and is limited by the scope intended by the landowner. An invitee, however, is offered the utmost duty of care. If an invitee decides to go to a purposefully excluded area of the property, her invitee status may be revoked (e.g., sneaking off to explore the basement).
Trespassers: A trespasser goes onto a landowner’s property for his own purpose, without the landowner’s permission. The landowner owes a duty not to cause injury to the trespasser. However, he’s not under a duty to keep his land in reasonable condition for the trespasser or let him know of dangerous areas. There is something called the “discovered trespasser rule,” which states that once the landowner knows the trespasser is there, he must exercise reasonable care for his safety.
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:
Under what circumstances was the person on the property?
How were they using the property?
What was the foreseeability of the accident?
How reasonable were the owner’s efforts in warning visitors of any existing perils?
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.
Premises liability in Texas
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.
Enjuris tip: You have to illustrate that the defendant (the landowner) owed you 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.
The property owner is somehow in control of the work performed, other than the right to start and stop the work or to inspect the progress, and
The property owner had actual knowledge of the danger that would result in personal injury or death.
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:
Likelihood of injury
These are weighed against your conduct and the burden of guarding against injury.
The property damage, personal injury or death arises from the use or operation of a motor-driven vehicle, and
The employee would be personally liable to the plaintiff under Texas law, AND
If that employee or governmental entity were a private person, he would be liable to the plaintiff under Texas law.
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.
How else is Texas different?
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!