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Texas Property Owner’s Responsibility to the Traveling Public

In Hoke v. The Campbell Group, LLC, the plaintiff appealed the granting of summary judgment to defendants The Campbell Group, LLC and Crown Pine Timber 1, L.P. in a premises liability lawsuit. The case arose when the plaintiff’s car crashed into a logging truck while they were both traveling on Highway 96.

The plaintiff was in the right lane, and the logging truck was in the left. The truck tried to turn onto a private logging road that was owned and managed by the defendants. It turned in front of the plaintiff and hit the brakes, thereby stopping in the road. The plaintiff hit the back of the truck and suffered injuries.

She sued, alleging that (1) the defendants failed to use adequate signs to warn the public of any unusual commercial activity, (2) the defendants failed to inspect the site for possible hazards that would interfere with those traveling through the area, (3) the defendants failed to use a safe worksite plan to reduce hazards to the public, and (4) the defendants failed to provide a safe entrance for logging trucks trying to get onto their property. The petition didn’t reference negligence per se, negligent activity, or any statute.

The defendants filed for summary judgment, arguing she couldn’t prove they owed her a duty, a key element of negligence. They didn’t provide evidence for this but just relied on her petition, in which she alleged the accident didn’t happen on their property. They argued that their duty as premises owners didn’t extend beyond the property boundaries to the road or highway they didn’t control. Summary judgment was granted.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the negligence claim, since the defendants had not negated an element of her negligent activity and premises liability claims, and she’d shown there were disputed issues of material fact.

The appellate court explained that in order to establish negligence, the plaintiff needed to establish that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, which it breached. It reasoned that a property owner or occupier’s duty arises from its control of the premises, and it doesn’t go beyond the limits of its control.

A property owner can’t insure travelers’ safety on an adjacent highway or protect against the negligence of other people. It does, however, have to use reasonable care not to endanger the safety of those legally using the highway in order to travel, and it can be liable for injuries that arise from wrongful acts that do endanger traveler safety.

The defendants argued that any duty they might owe would depend on the foreseeability of the harmful effects of their actions at issue. However, someone doesn’t have a duty to anticipate another party’s negligence on an adjacent public roadway. In this case, the defendants had no control over the truck driver or reason to doubt his competence.

The court explained that the summary judgment record lacked any evidence to support the defendants’ position. Nothing showed how the accident occurred or where it occurred. There was no evidence even to show the driver turned in front of the plaintiff in a negligent way.

Instead, the defendants argued that the allegations in the plaintiff’s petition proved their lack of a legal duty. The court explained that the defendants failed to meet their burden of proof to negate a key element of the plaintiff’s cause of action. Therefore, the appellate court held that the trial court had erred in granting summary judgment. It reversed.

If you are hurt in a truck accident caused by someone else, the experienced San Antonio 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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