In City of San Antonio v. Peralta, the plaintiff sued the city and the San Antonio River Authority after he suffered injuries in a bicycle accident on a river walk. The plaintiff was riding his bike to work, and at around 6 a.m., the bike crashed into sewer drainage. The metal plate covering the sewer had been removed. He was thrown over the bike and injured. He alleged that the negligence and gross negligence of the city and the River Authority were proximate causes of his injuries.
The plaintiff argued that their immunity was waived under the provisions related to special defects and premises defects in the Texas Tort Claims Act. The defendants argued in separate pleas to the jurisdiction that under the recreational use statute, they owed to the plaintiff only the limited duty owed to a trespasser. Specifically, they claimed there wasn’t any evidence they knew the metal plate was missing prior to the accident. They also argued the plaintiff had failed to show they were grossly negligent. Their pleas were denied, and they appealed.
The appellate court explained that governmental immunity protects governmental entities from lawsuits for monetary damages except in specific circumstances under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). Under the TTCA, a governmental entity can be liable for personal injuries based on a premises defect if the governmental unit would be liable to the plaintiff if it were a private person.
However, the property owner’s duty is limited if the property is opened to visitors for recreation. An owner that opens up for recreation doesn’t assure the visitor that it’s safe for that purpose, owe the person more care than what’s owed to a trespasser, or assume liability for an injury to an individual caused by any act of the person to whom permission was granted to use the property. Gross negligence is defined as subjectively being aware of an extreme degree of risk, such that there is a conscious indifference to others’ safety, rights, or welfare.
The plaintiff argued that the recreational use statute didn’t apply because he was riding his bike to work, not for fun. He also argued his injuries were legally caused by the defendants’ gross negligence.
The parties agreed that the river walk was open to recreation and that the plaintiff had permission to be there. Nor did the defendants disagree with the plaintiff’s claim of being injured because his bike fell into a drainage area.
The appellate court disagreed with the plaintiff. It found that he was engaged in recreation, regardless of his subjective intent while bicycling, and that the defendants’ only duty was not to hurt him by gross negligence, with a malicious intent, or in bad faith under Texas Civil Practice &Remedies Code § 75.002(c), (d).
The court explained that the plaintiff’s burden was to plead facts that would show immunities were waived. The plaintiff had alleged that the defendants knew the drain was uncovered but placed no warnings nor repaired the property. He also pleaded that he did not know the drain was uncovered. The court found that he’d met his burden to plead a premises defect cause of action and a special defect cause of action.
The plaintiff had alleged the defendants were grossly negligent because a city employee or River Authority employee told him that he knew the cover plate was missing, the defendants knew this missing plate would create extreme risk, and they were consciously indifferent to his safety by failing to replace it. He also presented evidence from a River Authority log that noted the missing plate. The defendants had not proven as a matter of law that they didn’t know the cover plate was missing or consciously disregard the plaintiff’s safety by failing to replace the plate. The trial court’s order was affirmed.
If you’re hurt in a bike accident because of a premises defect, you may need an attorney who understands the Texas Tort Claims Act. The experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help you. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.