Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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  1. Property owners can try to evade liability in some personal injury cases by claiming that a contractor was at fault for an accident. However, even when a contractor is used, property owners may still be on the hook. In a recent case before a Texas appeals court, the court explained why a refinery could still be held liable after a contractor’s employee was injured while the contractor was completing repairs.

RefineryThe plaintiff, a supervisor, worked at a company that was providing maintenance and repairs at a refining facility in Texas. He was injured at work one day when hot liquid sprayed out of a pipe, causing him to suffer severe burns. A solution of raw bauxite dirt and sodium hydroxide called “process liquor” was being pumped through the pipes. Because the process liquor caused residue to build up in the pipes over time, the pipes had to be cleaned from time to time. Some employees were using a jackhammer to remove a deposit that had formed in a pipe when hot liquor sprayed out of the pipe and onto the employee.

The plainitff had to be airlifted to the hospital due to the severity of the burns. He alleged that the refinery was negligent in failing to ensure that the liquor was emptied from the pipe before allowing work to begin. The employer argued that the refinery was not liable for his injury under Chapter 95 of Texas’s Civil Practice and Remedies Code, because the work was being done by a contractor.

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Texas’s Supreme Court recently considered a Texas personal injury case in which the defendant attempted to name another individual as a responsible third-party after the statute of limitations governing the plaintiff’s claim had expired. The court had to determine if the defendant should be allowed to bring in the third-party, or if by waiting until after the statute of limitations expired resulted in the forfeiture of this right.

Statute of LimitationsThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff sued a restaurant after she was injured when a television fell off the wall and hit her. During discovery, when the woman asked who installed the television, the restaurant stated that it was installed by a certain individual. However, the restaurant also stated that it believed the parties had been correctly named, did not name any other potentially parties, and stated that it would supplement its response with the name of a responsible third-party. The restaurant did not supplement its responses before the statute of limitations expired.

Two weeks after the statute of limitations had expired, the restaurant moved for leave to designate the individual as a responsible third-party and it supplemented its discovery responses. The plaintiff argued that it was too late for the defendant to designate another responsible party because the statute of limitations had expired and the defendant failed to timely disclose that the individual might be designated as a responsible third-party.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas slip-and-fall case that arose after the plaintiff slipped and fell in a Wal-Mart store. The case required the court to determine if the trial court was proper in dismissing the plaintiff’s lawsuit after granting Wal-Mart’s motions for summary judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that summary judgment was not appropriate for Wal-Mart because the plaintiff’s proposed theory of how the accident occurred was the most plausible among those suggested by the parties.store

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was shopping at Wal-Mart when he slipped and fell in a puddle of clear liquid that was left in an aisle. The puddle was at a low-lying area of the floor, where brown tile met white vinyl.

The incident was captured on low-resolution video that showed an auto-scrubber floor-cleaning machine pass over the area where the tile met the vinyl. The machine – which dispenses a soapy liquid, scrubs the floor, and then sucks up any remaining liquid – paused over the area where the plaintiff fell. The video was too poor in quality to determine with any certainty that liquid was left behind.

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In a recent case, the state’s Supreme Court ruled against a plaintiff in a Texas workplace injury case. The plaintiff was employed by an energy company, where his employer and another energy company were drilling for oil. The incident that resulted in this lawsuit occurred when an employee of the other energy company asked him to clean up a spill of fracking liquid; however, the employee did not provide him with any protective gear. Evidently, the liquid contained toxic chemicals that came into contact with the plaintiff’s body. The plaintiff’s skin was burned when it came into contact with the liquid, and within hours, he was in severe pain. About four months later, he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer.

Legal News GavelProcedural Posture

About two years after being diagnosed with cancer, the plaintiff sued several entities but did not include the energy company that employed the employee who instructed him to clean up the spill. However, shortly thereafter, the plaintiff amended his petition to include the company, alleging that it was negligent in allowing the liquid to leak and asking him to clean it up without protective measures. He argued that the company was liable for his cancer, which was a new illness that developed from his exposure.

The energy company argued that they were entitled to summary judgment because the claim was filed past the statute of limitations. The plaintiff argued that the statute of limitations was tolled because he could not have known about their negligence until after he was diagnosed with cancer. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the company, and the court of appeals then reversed the decision. The defendant then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

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Seemingly small decisions in a case can end up making or breaking a case. In a recent Texas construction injury case, the Supreme Court of Texas dismissed a $2 million judgment on appeal after the plaintiff submitted a negligence claim to the jury instead of a premises liability claim.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

An employee was working on scaffolding at a refinery when he slipped on a piece of plywood, causing him to fall through a hole in the scaffold and suffer a neck injury as a result. The scaffolding was constructed by a scaffolding company that the employee’s company had hired to build scaffolds at the refinery. The scaffolding company was required to inspect every scaffold at the refinery before each work shift and before each scaffold’s use. There were almost 3,000 scaffolds at the refinery at the time. The scaffolding company’s employees were not present on the date of the employee’s fall.

The employee brought a lawsuit against the scaffolding company, arguing that the company improperly built the scaffolding and failed to remedy or warn of a dangerous condition. The case went to trial, and the trial court submitted a general negligence question to the jury. The jury found the scaffolding company was negligent and awarded the employee $2 million in past and future damages. The scaffolding company appealed, arguing that the court should not have submitted a general negligence question to the jury because the claim was a premises liability claim.

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Legal News GavelIn a recent Texas slip and fall case, the plaintiff had sued the owner and operator of the apartment complex where he used to live. He claimed that one night in January, he slipped and fell on damaged laminate flooring in his apartment. He claimed that the defendants had failed to keep a safe living environment and carelessly left damaged bath flooring. He alleged that he suffered severe pain due to back and neck injuries, and he stated damages of more than $450,000.

The defendants answered with a general denial and two motions for summary judgment. They claimed that he could respond with premises liability or negligent activity and that even though his petition didn’t specify his precise theory of negligence, the issue was solely a premises liability dispute.

The defendants argued that to recover damages based on a premises liability theory, the victim needed to prove they had actual or constructive knowledge of the property condition that presented an unreasonable risk of injury. They also argued that to recover damages under the negligent activity theory, the plaintiff had to show their affirmative contemporaneous actions caused the injuries. They also argued that to win under a gross negligence theory, he had to establish a negligent act or omission that involved an extreme chance of risk and that the actor actually, subjectively was aware of this risk, but continued on with conscious indifference to others’ welfare.

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Legal News GavelIn a recent Texas premises liability decision, the court considered a slip and fall that occurred in the Corrections Center. A woman was going with her family member to pretrial services when she slipped on water in the hallway. She sued the county, and it claimed it had governmental immunity that barred her claims.

A pretrial services caseworker saw the puddle in front of the men’s restroom, which was in an alcove separate from the hall where the plaintiff slipped. When the caseworker saw it, the puddle was about two feet long and didn’t go into the hallway. She told support staff about the puddle, and it was their procedure to call maintenance. She assumed they didn’t but didn’t know.

An hour later, the plaintiff slipped on the water that had progressed into the hallway. The caseworker didn’t see the fall but saw her there afterward. Later, she would testify that the puddle had flowed into the hallway, although she admitted she hadn’t seen the initial puddle move or flow when she saw it.

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Legal News GavelA recent Texas wrongful death decision arose when a college freshman was shot and killed on a university campus. He was on his way to class when he was shot and killed. On the prior evening, another shooting happened in the parking lot of the same dorm. His mother sued the university for negligence and gross negligence.

She claimed that the university’s employees, representatives, and agents failed to use reasonable care in warning parents and students about the risk of harm on campus and in providing adequate security and taking steps to stop criminal activity.

The university filed a plea to the jurisdiction and a motion to dismiss the mother’s claims on the basis of governmental immunity. The mother argued that immunity was waived by the Texas Tort Claims Act, since the death was caused by a condition or use of real property or personal property. The trial court denied the motion and allowed the plaintiff a month to amend her complaint. The university filed an interlocutory appeal, arguing that her petition affirmatively negated jurisdiction.

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Legal News GavelIn a recent Texas premises liability decision, a man sued a company for injuries he suffered while visiting to conduct maintenance on the company’s air conditioning unit. The case arose when an independent contractor working for a filter company was sent to a seafood restaurant operated and owned by the defendant. When he got there, he was shown by managers the ladder and overhead opening that he had to use to gain access to the air conditioners.

Once he’d replaced the filters, he opened the hatch to go down the ladder, but as he closed it, it slammed shut on his right hand. He drew back, lost his balance, and fell about 10-12 feet. He had to go the ER and sustained several injuries. He sued, and the defendant moved for summary judgment. It argued that the record showed he couldn’t meet his burden of proof for the prerequisites for liability under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Chapter 95, and he didn’t have evidence to prove premises liability.

The plaintiff put forward evidence in response, including deposition testimony from the defendant’s designated representative and his own expert. The designated representative testified that he’d worked at the restaurant in question since the start of 2012. He testified that while working at the store, he’d ascended and descended the ladder, and he’d used the hatch numerous times. He said he’d never had trouble with doing these things, and he didn’t know of anybody else being hurt or having trouble with them.

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Legal News GavelIn a recent Texas premises liability case, the plaintiff was a member of a country club that had a golf course. He also owned an associated condo unit. The 16th hole of the gold course had an elevated green, around which were cliffs. While playing that hole, the plaintiff tripped, rolled, and fell off the side. His shoulder was severely injured.

The plaintiff sued the ranch, the designer, and the owner of the country club, claiming gross negligence, negligence, and premises liability. They filed motions for summary judgment. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of them. He acknowledged documents related to his membership at the country club and his ownership of the associated condominium unit included releases that acknowledged and assumed risks associated with the club facilities.

He claimed that a supplemental declaration violated the statute of frauds and that the release wasn’t enforceable because it didn’t meet the fair notice requirements. The evidence wasn’t disputed that he signed a lot sales contract in buying a condo unit. The agreement stated the unit he was contracting to buy was subject to restrictions and conditions. The agreement included a defined term. The declaration referenced a statement that a copy of the documents had been gotten by the buyer. The contract also stated that the declaration was recorded.

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