In Jefferson County v. Akins, the plaintiff sued a county for personal injuries arising from her slip and fall in the hallway of the county jail. She was an employee of the jail, supervising inmates in the kitchen area in the middle of the night, and the fall occurred when she was leaving the jail after the end of her shift. Water often dripped in the hallway from trays being delivered from the kitchens.
Before falling, the plaintiff noticed an employee supervising a crew that was mopping the hallway. She didn’t know what she’d fallen on, but after she fell, she noticed her back was wet and the floor was shiny. Her supervisor witnessed the fall, and was of the opinion that she had fallen because the crew had just mopped the area where the plaintiff was injured.
The supervisor of the cleaning crew testified that there was a sign noting the floor was slippery on the mop bucket used by her crew. She also testified that she would dry-mop areas after mopping because she was concerned about safety. She also contradicted the plaintiff’s testimony about where she was when the plaintiff fell. She testified that she was standing about a foot from the accident and her crew hadn’t mopped the location of the fall. However, she had scolded the crew immediately after the fall, because she believed in that moment that they had left the area mopped and wet. Later she noticed drops of water on the floor in the door of the dining room and inside the dining area. It was her opinion that the trays from the kitchen carts had dripped and caused the plaintiff’s fall.
The plaintiff admitted that the kitchen floor stayed wet and her feet were wet when she left the kitchen. She also admitted that her crews used a damp mop in the kitchen and she supervised them. However, she also testified that her feet weren’t wet when she left the dining room.
After she fell, an ambulance took her to the hospital and once she was released, she continued to have neck pain, headaches and lower back problems for which she was treated. Her doctors had not yet released her to return to work by the time of trial. At trial, the jury found that the county’s negligence was 100% the legal cause of the accident and the plaintiff’s damages were $353,044.76.
The county asked for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and although the court entered judgment on the verdict, it did limit the damages recovery to $100,000, as well as post-judgment interest, and costs. The county appealed on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient for the jury to find that the floor’s condition created a reasonable risk of harm, actual knowledge, and failure to use ordinary care to protect the plaintiff. The county further argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude the plaintiff’s medical expenses for narcotics were reasonable and necessary.
The appellate court explained that under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.021(2) governmental entities can be liable for personal injuries caused by a dangerous property condition where it would be liable if it were a private person. In this case, the plaintiff argued the county failed to warn her of the dangerous condition. She had to show: (1) the condition caused an unreasonable risk of harm, (2) the property possessor had actual knowledge, (3) the licensee didn’t have actual knowledge of the condition, and (4) the property possessor breached its duty of ordinary care by failing to warn. The court found there was enough for the jury to find that the county’s negligence was a legal cause of the accident. It also found there was enough for the jury to conclude that the plaintiff wasn’t responsible for her injuries. It explained that if the county wanted to dispute the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s medical expenses, it should have filed a counter affidavit in response to the plaintiff’s. Therefore it also ruled in favor of the plaintiff on that issue.
If you are injured after falling on someone else’s property because of a dangerous condition, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your premises liability case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.