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Slip and Fall on a Texas College Campus

college-1440364In Texas State Technical College v. Washington, the plaintiff claimed that she slipped and fell in water on the Texas State Technical College campus after a water line broke the building’s ceiling and flooded the floor. The college is a governmental unit. She sued the college for personal injuries suffered in the fall. The college filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing among other things that she failed to provide evidence it knew or should have known about the water on the floor, and that she failed to establish a waiver of the college’s immunity. The plea to the jurisdiction was denied.

The college appealed. In general, the Texas Tort Claims Act waives governmental immunity in a slip and fall case when the governmental entity would be liable to the claimant if it were a private person in Texas. The issue in the appeal was whether there was evidence of the college’s liability that invoked a waiver of governmental immunity.

The appellate court explained that in Texas slip and fall cases, plaintiffs must show defendants have actual or constructive knowledge of dangerous conditions in order to recover damages. The dangerous condition in this case was a slippery substance on the floor. In order to establish the actual or constructive knowledge requirement, the plaintiff needs to prove:  (1) the defendant put the substance on the floor; (2) the defendant actually knew the substance was on the floor; or (3) more likely than not, the condition existed long enough to give the defendant a reasonable opportunity to discover the problem.

The appellate court explained that to avoid the case being dismissed for governmental immunity reasons, the plaintiff had to show there was a genuinely disputed material fact related to subject matter jurisdiction. The appellate court found that the plaintiff had presented enough evidence to raise an issue of material fact about the college’s knowledge of the water.

The court also found the college had presented evidence to determine the issue of knowledge, including deposition testimony from people involved with what happened, including a maintenance worker, the director of the physical plant, and a professor. The plaintiff had come into the center for a 10:00 a.m. math class and, while moving through the lounge, had slipped on water. Two custodians were by the door, and one said “my bad” in response to the fall.

On appeal from a defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction, the court has to take as true all evidence that is favorable to the plaintiff and permit all reasonable inferences. If there are doubts, they have to be resolved in favor of the plaintiff. The evidence showed that at least an hour before the slip and fall, the college and its agents knew about the water. It also showed that the college was trying to clean the water hours after the fall. Moreover, the custodian’s statement of “my bad” suggested actual or constructive knowledge and that the immunity was waived. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the plea to the jurisdiction and overruled the college’s objections.

If you are injured after falling on government property due to a dangerous condition, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your premises liability case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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