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Premises Liability Claim by a Framing Subcontractor in Texas

In Alonso v. Westin Homes Corporation, a Texas appellate court considered whether summary judgment was proper in a premises liability case. The case arose when a framer was working on homes being constructed by Westin Homes Corporation and related companies. He didn’t have a written agreement either with the company’s framing contractor or the framing contractor’s subcontractor, for which he worked directly. The framing contractor was doing its work under an independent contractor agreement.

While on the job, the framer fell and hurt his arm. He’d been putting together plywood to create the flooring for the second floor and stepped on a weak spot that broke and resulted in his fall. He’d been using a saw that was modified by the framing subcontractor so that the safety cover wouldn’t engage. When he fell, the framer tried to throw the saw away, but he inadvertently engaged it so that the blade was spinning as he fell. He landed on the saw and sliced his arm, suffering severe lacerations and nerve damage.

The framer sued Westin, claiming negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, and premises liability. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing there was no evidence it had been negligent per se or grossly negligent. It also claimed it didn’t have control over how the work was done and didn’t actually know of the dangerous condition that caused the framer’s nerve damage.

Under Chapter 95, a defendant in a premises liability case must have actual or constructive knowledge to be held responsible. The company also argued it owed no duty to the framer. The motion was granted, and the framer appealed.

On appeal, the framer only argued that the trial court had abused its discretion by granting summary judgment for the company. The appellate court explained that Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 95.002 applies to claims against a property owner for personal injuries arising out of the condition or use of a real property improvement when a subcontractor’s employee is building the improvement.

Property owners aren’t liable for injuries unless the property owner maintained or had some control over how the work was performed besides the right to stop or start the work or inspect its progress. Additionally, a plaintiff needs to prove the property owner possessed actual knowledge of the danger resulting in personal injuries and failed to adequately warn.

In this case, the plaintiff had identified the dangerous condition on the job site as being unsafe pace and lack of sufficient materials, as well as how the electric saws were secured and used. He stated that since the construction manager was at the job site on a daily basis, and he had to run the project, Westin had actual knowledge of the dangerous conditions, including a saw that was modified to impair its safety feature. The court found that at most, these things showed constructive knowledge but not actual knowledge of potentially dangerous conditions. The court took note that nobody from Westin told the framer to speed up and that there was no evidence that Westin even knew that the framer and his coworkers were rushing to complete their tasks or that they noticed modified saws. The summary judgment was affirmed.

If you are hurt while working as a contractor on somebody’s property, the experienced San Antonio work accident and premises liability attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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