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Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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adult-alcohol-bar-bartender-274192-scaledUnder Texas premises liability law, restaurants and bars have a duty to protect their customers. However, the extent of this duty is often called into question in cases where someone is injured while visiting an eating or drinking establishment. In a recent opinion, the court was asked to determine whether the defendant bar owed the plaintiff a duty of care to protect him against the criminal acts of a third party.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and a friend were drinking at the defendant bar. While they were at the bar, there were no issues. However, at 3 a.m., when the bar closed, the plaintiff was attacked by another bar patron. The fight left the plaintiff permanently blinded.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the bar, arguing that the bar was negligent for failing to take any steps to protect him against the criminal acts of the other bar patron. In support of his claim, the plaintiff pointed to the fact that the police had been called five times the previous year for fights occurring in the bar’s parking lot immediately after closing.

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gray-and-black-semi-automatic-pistol-3602946-scaledShooting ranges are popular in Texas, but anytime someone handles a gun there is a risk for injury. Despite the safety procedures in place in most Texas ranges, accidents do occur, and individuals are sometimes shot, leading to injuries or even death. Like most accidents, Texas law allows victims to file a civil negligence suit to recover for their injuries against a negligent party who caused the accident. However, the requirements for filing a lawsuit against a shooting range are a bit more complicated, meaning some plaintiffs who misunderstand the statutory requirements for filing may have their suit dismissed regardless of its merits.

The Supreme Court of Texas recently considered a case that highlights these requirements. According to the written opinion, the plaintiff brought his loaded .22 caliber rifle to the defendant shooting range in December of 2016. He handed the gun to a range employee for a pre-entrance safety inspection, and during the inspection, the gun discharged and shot the plaintiff in the leg. As a result, the plaintiff suffered severe injuries that required extensive medical treatment.

In February of 2017, the plaintiff sued the shooting range and the employee who performed the inspection. The parties submitted an agreed-upon scheduling order, which was approved in April. The order provided a date by which all experts must be designated. In June of 2017, more than 90 days after the suit was filed, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, based on section 128.053 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. This section requires that a plaintiff suing a shooting range must serve an expert report on the defendants within 90 days of the original filing, unless that deadline is extended by written agreement. If a plaintiff fails to do so, their suit can be dismissed with prejudice. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs had not served them with an expert witness within 90 days, and thus the suit must be dismissed. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, argued that the scheduling order extended the deadline, even though it did not mention section 128.053.

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Photo Credit: KRIS TV

(February 20, 2020 Aransas Pass, TX) A 2-year-old girl fell into a septic tank Wednesday evening of the 19th at the Paradise Lagoons RV Resort in Aransas Pass.  The child identified as Charleigh Nicole Nelson had been walking on the lid of the tank when she fell in.

Rescue attempts were made by both family and neighbors, but they were unsuccessful.  The Rockport and Fulton Volunteer Fire Departments along with Aransas Pass FD were called out but they were also unable to rescue the toddler.  The rescue turned into recovery by calling in the Ingleside Volunteer Fire Department who was able to reach the body by lowering a firefighter into a 2 foot wide hole with a specialized rope.  The tank itself was filled with over 2 feet of water in which the child had been submerged for over an hour.

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Bryan, Texas, February 8, 2020:  A  second explosion happened at one of Chesapeake Energy’s oil wells in the Eagle Ford Shale just two weeks after a Jan. 29 deadly explosion at a Chesapeake Energy oil well site in nearby Burleson County. Three men were killed and one man was left hospitalized in the Burleson incident. Bryan Maldonado, 25, and Windell Beddingfield died in what is the deadliest oilfield accident since January 2018.

Authorities are investigating the accident which occurred about 1 a.m. Saturday at a storage tank on the company’s Luther lease off Sandy Point and Old San Antonio Roads in a rural area of Brazos County about eight miles northwest of Bryan.

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Photo Credit: KWTX

(BURLESON COUNTY, Texas,  Feb 3, 2020)  Three oil field contractors have died and another is still in the hospital after an oil well blowout and the resulting fire in Burleson County, Texas.

The accident happened at a well site near Deanville, on County Road 127 and FM 60,  southwest of Bryan on January 29th.  The Chesapeake Energy owned well was undergoing major maintenance operations by contractors employed by CC Forbes and Eagle Pressure Control when the explosion occurred.

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Photo Credit: KTRK

(HOUSTON, January 27, 2020)  Two people were killed in a gas explosion in northwest Houston at a manufacturing warehouse on Friday the 25 at around 4:30 a.m. After the explosion the Houston Fire Department reported that 48 people had to be sheltered and 18 people were sent to local emergency rooms for injuries.

Officials have identified Gerardo Castorena Sr. and Frank Flores as the two victims who were killed in this fatal explosion.

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 by Attny Jesse E. Guerra, Jr.

According to a recent study, Texas had more pool drownings in 2019 than in recent years.  Certainly, this is a tragic statistic given that Texas has vast resources and has initiated extensive outreach to promote swimming pool safety.  As an aquatic litigation pioneer, I have seen a decline in new cases in the last few years.   

To be quite honest, I am happy to see a decline in cases as a result of efforts made through public awareness, and at times, due to costly litigation taken against some pool owners/operators who refused to take action to make their pools safer unless juries or litigation made them change their minds.

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As the second largest state in the U.S., Texas has a diverse range of terrain making it a great state for recreationalists. However, in Texas, approximately 95% of all the land is privately owned and landowners are not required to allow others on their land. To encourage landowners to open up their property for the public’s recreational use, Texas lawmakers have passed a recreational use statute (RUS). Texas recreationalists should be aware of the state’s RUS, as it can limit an accident victim’s ability to recover for their injuries through a Texas premises liability lawsuit, even if their injuries were the result of a landowner’s negligence.

Texas Statutes Chapter 75 discusses limitations on a landowner’s liability. Collectively, these statutes constitute the Texas RUS. Specific to this discussion, sections 75.002 and 75.003 pertain to the private, non-agricultural land that is used for recreational purposes. The RUS defines recreational activity broadly, including hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, camping, hiking, exploring, bicycling, dog-walking, and “pleasure driving”, among other activities.

Under the Texas RUS, a landowner who gives permission for others to enter their property for recreational purposes does not assure that the property is safe and does not owe their guest any greater duty than they would owe to a trespasser. Similarly, the landowner cannot be held liable for any injuries that are caused by the guest while on their property.

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The Texas Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in a Texas personal injury case involving the death of a 19-year-old pregnant woman who fell into a dam near Fort Worth. According to the court’s opinion, the woman tried to walk across the dam when she slipped and fell into the river and drowned. She was five months pregnant at the time. The woman’s parents sued the local water district, which built and maintained the dam, alleging that it was at fault for their daughter’s death. The water district, which is considered a governmental entity, claimed that it was immune from suit for that reason. The plaintiffs claimed that the district was not immune from suit because the claim fell under a specified waiver of immunity.

Governmental immunity generally protects political subdivisions of the state, including cities and counties. However, there are exceptions to the general rule of immunity. For example, the state is not immune for claims involving “use of publicly owned automobiles, premises defects, and injuries arising out of conditions or use of property.” Under section 101.056 of the Texas Tort Claims Act, there is an exception to waivers of immunity if the claim is based on:

(1) the failure of a governmental unit to perform an act that the unit is not required by law to perform; or

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Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Texas premises liability case discussing when a landowner can be held liable for injuries caused on their property by accumulations of snow or ice. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff failed to establish that her slip-and-fall accident was the result of an “unnatural” accumulation, and thus the court affirmed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the defense.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she fell on a patch of ice as she was walking into a shopping mall. Evidently, the plaintiff arrived at the mall two days after a winter storm had left several inches of snow on the ground. The plaintiff parked her car in the mall parking lot, exited her vehicle, and began to approach the entrance. As the plaintiff was walking up a sloped pedestrian walkway, she fell and landed on a patch of ice. After her fall, the plaintiff noticed that there was a grainy substance, either sand or deicer, on the ground. The plaintiff also saw that there was a pile of snow at the top of the sloped ramp.

The mall filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that under Texas law a landowner is not liable for injuries caused by the natural accumulation of snow on their property. The plaintiff claimed that by piling the snow at the top of the ramp and by applying sand or a deicer, what may have been initially a natural accumulation of snow became unnatural.

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