Recently, the Supreme Court of Texas, issued an opinion addressing whether the ferae naturae doctrine limits a landowner’s liability when a wild animal on their property causes damages. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant owned a bed and breakfast (B&B) and a neighboring cabin on the property. In 2012, the defendant began renting out his B&B, primarily on the weekends. Before each rental, the owner hired a cleaning service to prepare the home for the incoming guests. This preparation included identifying any potential pest problems and utilizing a “bug bomb,” in cases where the housekeeper noticed a pest issue.
In 2014, the defendant leased the neighboring cabin to the plaintiff. The defendant often employed the plaintiff to do various maintenance work on the B&B. On previous occasions, the plaintiff notified the defendant that he observed spiders in the cabin and B&B. The defendant would tell the housekeepers of these sightings so that they could appropriately prepare the B&B for guests.
In preparation for incoming guests, the plaintiff asked the defendant to check on the B&B’s dishwasher and determine whether the sink was leaking. When the plaintiff was checking the sink, a brown recluse spider bit him. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant had any knowledge that there were brown recluse spiders on the property. Although, the defendant read reports that brown recluse spiders are often found in Texas, and he assumed they might exist on his property.
The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant, arguing that the venomous spider’s presence was unreasonably dangerous. Further, he claimed that the defendant was liable for his injuries because the owner knew or should have known about the deadly spiders, and he failed to make the property safe or warn the plaintiff of the dangers.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that under the ferae naturae doctrine, he did not owe a duty to the plaintiff. The trial court granted the motion, and the appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision. The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas.
Under Texas law, the threshold question in a premises liability lawsuit is whether the property owner owed the injury victim a duty. Courts should resolve any issues regarding the existence of a duty. These duties generally depend upon the status of the injury victim. Property owners owe invitees, such as the defendant, a general duty to warn against any “concealed, unreasonably dangerous conditions that the defendant should have known of.” The duty does not extend to open and obvious dangers.
Under the ferae naturae doctrine, landowners do not have a duty to protect invitees from wild animals, unless the owner reduced the wild animals in his control, introduced non-indigenous animals into the area, or attracted the animals onto the property. An additional exception exists, if the owner of a store, hotel, or apartment knows of an unreasonable risk of harm and cannot expect patrons to realize or guard against that risk.
Here, the plaintiff argued that the defendant is liable because he knew that these spiders exist in Texas, and the injury occurred inside his B&B. The court ultimately found that the defendant did not have a duty in this case. They reasoned that the defendant did not ever see a brown recluse spider in the B&B, and that both parties had the same level of knowledge regarding the presence of spiders on the property. They found that the trial court correctly granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.
Have You Suffered Injuries on Another’s Property?
If you or someone you know suffered injuries because of the negligence of a property owner, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The Texas premises liability attorneys at Carabin Shaw can help you recover for damages you suffered because of another’s negligence. We have helped significant numbers of Texas injury victims in their premises liability claims stemming from various types of accidents and injuries. Contact our office at 800-862-1260 to schedule a free initial consultation with a Texas injury attorney.