Premises liability claims are often brought against businesses and companies we represent in Texas. Any business which is in possession of a building or land (i.e. a premises) is subject to the possibility of a claim being brought by anyone who is injured while on the premises. Some of the most common forms of premises liability involve slip and fall cases, swimming pool accidents, landlord negligence, elevator accidents, improper maintenance and negligent security.
But Premises liability claims in Texas are not limited to third party claims. Premises liability claims are frequently brought by employees against their nonsubscriber employers. Premises liability can be described as the legal responsibility for an injury (usually a personal injury) that arises out of the ownership or operation of property. When we represent businesses who have taken advantage of their rights to be responsible non-subscribers, we see premises liability claims arise when an employee is injured by a condition of the employer’s property. This type of claim is in contrast to non-premises claims, which would involve acts or activities of a co- employee, a third party, or even the employee himself or herself.
Premises owners are not guarantors of the safety of its customers or employees. As a result, an employee is not automatically entitled to recover for his or her injuries simply because the injury occurred on the employer’s property.
To prevail on a premises-liability claim against his or her employer in Texas, an employee must generally prove four elements (notice; unreasonably dangerous condition; failure to exercise ordinary care; and proximate cause).
The four elements are more specifically described as follows:
(1) Actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the premises by the owner or occupier;
(2) That the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm;
(3) That the owner or occupier did not exercise reasonable care to reduce
or eliminate the risk; and
(4) That the owner or occupier’s failure to use such care proximately caused the employee’s injury.
Employers who do not subscribe to the Texas Worker’s Compensation Act under Section 406.033 of the Texas Labor Code are denied the common law defenses of assumption of the risk and contributory negligence. But the employee still has to prove that the employer owes a duty to the employee.
In one of the leading cases on premises liability law in Texas, Brookshire Grocery Company v. Goss, 262 S.W.3d 793 (2008), the Texas Supreme Court reversed a jury verdict and the court of appeals when a grocery store was found negligent after its employee was injured when she attempted to maneuver around a loaded cart in a deli cooler. Because any danger inherent to stepping around such carts is commonly known, the court held that the employer had no duty to warn employees of the risk or provide specialized training to avoid that hazard. In reversing the verdict, the Supreme Court noted that the threshold question was one of duty, and that the employer had no such duty. The court asserted that an absence of duty is not an affirmative defense, stating that it ““depends on a legal analysis balancing a number of factors, including the risk, foreseeability, and likelihood of injury, and the consequences of placing the burden on the defendant.” There was no evidence that it was unusually dangerous for an employer to keep a loaded lowboy in a cooler. Furthermore, to the extent that stepping over a lowboy is dangerous, it held that it is a danger apparent to anyone, including the injured employee.
For Texas non-subscribers, this decision of the Court is a welcome sight. If your company is a non-subscriber to Texas workers’ compensation, we can answer questions you might have regarding premises liability issues and the safety of your employees.
Williams, McClure & Parmelee is dedicated to high quality legal representation of businesses and insurance companies in a variety of matters. We are experienced Fort Worth, Texas non-subscriber defense attorneys in Tarrant County who know Texas courts and Texas law. For more information, please contact the law firm at 817-335-8800. The firm’s office location is 5601 Bridge Street, Suite 300, Fort Worth, Texas 76112.