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Liability for Injuries from Tangible Property in Texas

televisionsIn Constantino v. Dallas County Hospital District, the plaintiff appealed an order dismissing her personal injury case. The plaintiff had sued a county hospital for personal injuries after a television fixed to the wall in her aunt’s hospital room fell on her shoulder and arm and hurt her. She claimed the hospital had negligently furnished personal property in an unsafe condition. Ordinarily, a governmental hospital would be immune from suit, except under certain conditions in which it is waived.

In this case, the plaintiff claimed waiver under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code § 101.021(2) on the ground that her injuries had been caused by the use of tangible real or personal property. She argued in the alternative that the falling television was a premises defect, such that immunity was waived under § 101.022.

The trial court granted the defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction on the premises defect claim but denied it on the other claim. The hospital appealed. The appellate court ruled that the plaintiff had simply styled the premises defect claim differently in her § 101.021(2) claim. It also ruled that the petition didn’t show she couldn’t cure the pleading defects and state a claim within the waiver of immunity under § 101.021(2).

The plaintiff amended her petition and claimed only that she’d been injured by a personal property condition. She didn’t allege that the hospital owed her a duty based on her status as an invitee or licensee of the hospital or that the hospital breached a duty to warn. She stated that the bracket and television were attached to a wall mount for 15-20 years with a single bolt, such that the television could be rotated and removed easily. She claimed that the bracket pulled free from the wall mount, causing it to fall and hit her, and that the bracket was defective for not including a set screw. She also argued that the missing parts were integral safety components missing from the personal property.

The appellate court reviewed the lower court’s ruling on the plea to the jurisdiction. The plaintiff argued that the defendant hadn’t met its burden to show the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The appellate court explained that the hospital was clearly a governmental unit protected by immunity from suit. Therefore, it was the plaintiff’s obligation to show an express waiver of immunity and raise a disputed issue of material fact, which wasn’t done.

The plaintiff argued that her pleadings raised the issue that her injuries were caused by a condition of tangible personal property within the waiver of immunity under § 101.021(2). The court explained that premises defect claims and claims based on a condition of tangible personal property are different, and a claim can’t be both. The plaintiff argued that personal property like a television and bracket didn’t lose its character by being affixed to real property. The appellate court explained that the issue is whether personal property created a dangerous condition on the premises or whether the actual use of the personal property caused the injury.

The plaintiff had been injured based on a static setup of the television and bracket. The appellate court explained that this was an alleged premises defect. It also ruled that the absence of safety components created a premises defect claim, rather than a claim for a condition of tangible personal property. The trial court’s order was affirmed.

If you are hurt on government property, the experienced San Antonio premises liability 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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