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When is a Warning Adequate in a Texas Slip and Fall?

wet floorIn a recent Texas slip and fall case, the plaintiff walked around a wet floor warning sign that was situated in the hall outside the bathroom in the defendant’s convenience store. The restrooms were at the back of the store and could be accessed through an open entry that led to a small hall.

Surveillance video showed that there was a yellow warning sign that said “wet floor” located in the entry. When the plaintiff turned the corner and walked into the hall to go to the restroom, he walked past the sign. He also walked past an employee who was wet-mopping the floor. While he was inside the restroom, the employee wet-mopped the entrance where the sign was located. She moved the sign while mopping, mopped the spot where the warning sign was, and then returned the sign to the original place.

Two minutes after going into the restroom, the plaintiff left the bathroom and slipped and fell on the wet hallway floor a few feet from the location of the sign. He was hurt and sued the defendants for personal injuries based on premises liability. As a customer, the plaintiff was considered an invitee to the store under Texas law.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant had failed to provide adequate warnings of a dangerous condition and hadn’t made the condition adequately safe. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, in which it argued that there was no evidence of breach, its warning was adequate, and the condition at issue was open and obvious. It also argued there wasn’t any evidence of an unreasonable risk of harm or that it had failed to use reasonable care to reduce the risk.

The trial court didn’t specify why it granted the motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court explained that in a premises liability lawsuit, an injured invitee needs to show:  (1) the owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition that causes harm, (2) the condition presented an unreasonable risk of harm, (3) the owner failed to take reasonable care to reduce the risk, and (4) the property owner’s failure to use reasonable care to reduce the risk was the legal cause of the invitee’s injuries. A property owner can take away the third element by providing warnings of the dangerous condition to invitees.

Whether a warning is sufficient depends on the totality of the circumstances. It’s considered adequate when the warning identifies and communicates the existence of a condition in a way that a reasonable person would understand. The appellate court explained that there were numerous undisputed facts. It was undisputed that there was a three-foot, yellow, freestanding warning sign in the entry to the hall that led only to the bathroom and that the warning referred to an employee mopping. The top of the sign had a graphic with a stick figure of a human being slipping and stated “caution” and “wet floor.”

The remaining questions were whether this was adequate and whether the danger was obvious and open. The plaintiff argued it was inadequate because when he went to the restroom, the floor wasn’t wet, but it was wet when he came out, and there was no sign directly in front of the door. The appellate court explained that there is no duty to ensure the safety of invitees and that the plaintiff had received an adequate warning before he fell. He’d seen active mopping in that area. The dissenting opinion noted the changed condition of the hallway floor, but the majority found what would be required by following the dissent was too granular a warning.

If you are injured on somebody else’s property, you should consult a Texas attorney with experience in premises liability cases to seek a favorable outcome. Consult the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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