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Lack of Notice in Premises Liability Lawsuit in Texas

In 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.

The plaintiff’s expert looked at the property and found the ladder wasn’t securely attached. He testified that when he conducted his property examination, he didn’t see any sign that the ladder was attached to the structural steel at the top of the ladder. He acknowledged the ladder could’ve been attached to other structural parts. He also testified about a danger in closing the hatch because at a particular point the weight would shift, such that the full weight of the hatch would fall down in such a way that it was nearly impossible to control the speed at which it fell.

The lower court granted the summary judgment motion. The plaintiff appealed, arguing his injuries arose from two premises defects:  the hatch suddenly shutting on his hand and the ladder moving away from the wall. The company argued there was no evidence it knew or should have known about these defects. The appellate court explained that the elements of a premises liability claim are:  (1) there was actual or constructive notice to the owner of the defects causing the injury, (2) the defects created an unreasonable risk of getting hurt, (3) the property owner failed to use reasonable care to get rid of or reduce the risk, and (4) the property owner’s failure to utilize reasonable care was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The appellate court explained that evidence from the company showed none of its employees was actually aware of ladder defects. The company’s representative hadn’t had trouble with the hatch.

The plaintiff’s expert spoke about his personal experience with how the hatch fell, but nothing showed that the company knew or should have known that the hatch presented an unreasonable risk of injury. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

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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