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Wrongful Death as a Result of a Flooded River in Texas

riverIn Walker v. UME, Inc., a Texas Court of Appeals considered a case in which the trial court had entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants in a wrongful death case. The case arose in 2010, when two couples, the Walkers and the Johnsons, drove to Camp Huaco Springs for a weekend of camping and river rafting. They parked in two spots that they were assigned. On Saturday, they went on a canoe trip on the river and toured caverns. They went back to the campsite and went to bed in their RV campers. It was not raining at that time.

The couples hadn’t realized that there was a forecast of heavy rain. Cynthia Walker woke at around 6:00 a.m. There was thunder and lightning, and Terry Johnson (Cynthia’s brother) was screaming that they needed to leave. She realized that the river had risen overnight. The campers were floating. The two couples were swept down the river in the flood. Norman Walker died in the flood. His wife and the Johnsons were rescued but required medical care.

Cynthia Walker and others filed a lawsuit for premises liability and negligence against UME, Inc., which was doing business as Camp Huaco Springs, and WWGAF, which was doing business as Rockin ‘R River Rides and the Rivers brothers. The plaintiffs claimed WWGAF was a joint enterprise with UME and that it was the alter ego of the Rivers brothers. They also claimed that the defendants were aware that floods were likely at the campground, and they should have provided storm warnings and planned for flood awareness. They argued that the defendants should have used sirens to warn them and hired someone to evacuate guests and educate them about risks.

UME and the Rivers brothers moved for summary judgment. They argued that the plaintiffs were limited to asserting gross negligence under the Texas Recreational Use Statute (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 75.002) and that the plaintiffs couldn’t prove gross negligence. They also argued that they didn’t have a duty to issue the warnings expected by the plaintiffs and that there wasn’t any evidence that the victims’ injuries were caused by negligence by UME and the Rivers brothers.

WWGAF also filed for summary judgment on the grounds that it was wholly separate from Camp Huaco and that it didn’t owe a duty to the couples. The trial court granted the motions for summary judgment without explaining the grounds.

The appellate court held as a matter of law that even assuming that the recreational use statute didn’t apply, as a matter of law the defendants didn’t owe the couples a duty to warn about the rising river. The appellate court explained that without this duty, there was no ability to move forward with the premises liability claims. A premises liability plaintiff needs to prove that a landowner or occupier has actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition with an unreasonable risk of harm and that the landowner didn’t use reasonable care to reduce the risk. The failure to use reasonable care must be the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The court explained that the death of Norman Walker was caused by a flooded river that came to the premises. Moreover, Texas court have held as a matter of law that naturally occurring conditions like rain don’t create conditions posing an unreasonable risk of harm. The appellate court reasoned that since the defendants didn’t owe a duty to warn or make the campsite safe against flooding due to rain, summary judgment in favor of the defendants was proper.

If a loved one dies as a result of someone else’s negligence, the San Antonio wrongful death attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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