In a Texas premises-liability case, a landowner is liable to employees of an independent contractor only for claims arising from a concealed, pre-existing defect rather than from the contractor’s work. Gen. Elec. Co. v. Moritz, 257 S.W.3d 211, 215 (Tex. 2008). “With respect to existing defects, an owner or occupier has a duty to inspect the premises and warn of concealed hazards the owner knows or should have known about.” Id. (quoting Shell Oil Co. v. Khan, 138 S.W.3d 288, 295 (Tex. 2004)).
“Premises Liability” refers to accidents that occur due to the negligent maintenance, operation or design of a property owned by someone other than the accident victim. This includes claims against a landlord on behalf of a tenant or against the landowner for injuries suffered by an individual who was lawfully on the property.
The Texas Legislature has waived sovereign immunity for personal injury claims arising from a premise defect. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.021. Former section 101.022 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code applied different duties of care to a suit depending on whether the condition was a premise defect or a special defect:
(a) If a claim arises from a premise defect, the governmental unit owes to the claimant only the duty that a private person owes
to a licensee on private property, unless the claimant pays for the use of the premises.
(b) The limitation of duty in this section does not apply to the duty to warn of special defects such as excavations or obstructions
on highways, roads, or streets or to the duty to warn of the absence, condition, or malfunction of traffic signs, signals, or warning
devices as is required by Section 101.060.
Act of May 17, 1985, 69th Leg., R.S., ch. 959, 1985 Tex. Gen. Laws 3242, 3303 (amended 2005) (current version at Tex. Civ.Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.022) (hereinafter § 101.022). If a claim involves a premise defect under section (a), a licensee standard applies. Tex. Civ Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.022(a); see also State Dep’t of Highways & Public Transp. v. Payne, 838 S.W.2d 235, 237 (Tex. 1992). Under a licensee standard, a plaintiff must prove the governmental unit had actual knowledge of a condition that created an unreasonable risk of harm, and also that the licensee did not have actual knowledge of that same
condition. Payne, 838 S.W.2d at 237. But if a claim involves a special defect under section (b), a more lenient invitee standard applies. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.022(b). Under an invitee standard, the plaintiff need only prove that the governmental unit should have known of a condition that created an unreasonable risk of harm. Payne, 838 S.W.2d at 237; see also State Dep’t of Highways & Pub. Transp. v. Kitchen, 867 S.W.2d 784, 786 (Tex. 1993) (per curiam) (“Absent a finding that the State knew of the dangerous condition prior to the accident, it is not liable to plaintiffs unless the condition was a special
defect.”). Whether a condition is a premise defect or special defect is a question of law, which we review de novo. Payne, 838 S.W.2d at 238.
The Civil Practices and Remedies Code does not define exactly what a“special defect” is,but does give guidance by likening special defects to
“excavations or obstructions.” See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.022(b)
The term “Premises Liability” encompasses a wide range of events that cause injury and may give rise to liability. For example, a slip and fall due to a wet or defective floor may be actionable against a landowner or a landlord. Other examples include claims for inadequate security, lighting or the failure to properly maintain railings, porches or stairs. These are examples of premises liability actions. Each set of facts giving rise to an injury on a premises must be individually evaluated.
In Texas, a premises owner does not guarantee the safety of its customers or employees. Consequently, an employee is not automatically entitled to
recover for his injuries merely because the injury occurred on his employer’s property.
To prevail on a premises-liability claim, a Plainiff must prove four essential elements:
(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 plaintiff’s injury.
These four elements are typically referred to as: (1) notice; (2) unreasonably dangerous condition; (3) failure to exercise ordinary care; and (4) proximate cause.
As always, it is important to contact a knowledgeable and experienced Texas insurance defense attorney to help you understand your rights as a Defendant in a premises liability case. James L. Williams of Williams, McClure & Parmelee in Fort Worth, Texas is a veteran insurance defense attorney who protects the rights of insurance carriers and businesses in Texas premises liability cases.
Williams, McClure & Parmelee is dedicated to high quality legal representation of businesses and insurance companies in a variety of matters. We are experienced Texas civil litigation attorneys based in Fort Worth 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.