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Texas Supreme Court Dismisses $2 Million Judgment for Submitting Improper Claim to Jury

Seemingly small decisions in a case can end up making or breaking a case. In a recent Texas construction injury case, the Supreme Court of Texas dismissed a $2 million judgment on appeal after the plaintiff submitted a negligence claim to the jury instead of a premises liability claim.

The Facts of the Case

An employee was working on scaffolding at a refinery when he slipped on a piece of plywood, causing him to fall through a hole in the scaffold and suffer a neck injury as a result. The scaffolding was constructed by a scaffolding company that the employee’s company had hired to build scaffolds at the refinery. The scaffolding company was required to inspect every scaffold at the refinery before each work shift and before each scaffold’s use. There were almost 3,000 scaffolds at the refinery at the time. The scaffolding company’s employees were not present on the date of the employee’s fall.

The employee brought a lawsuit against the scaffolding company, arguing that the company improperly built the scaffolding and failed to remedy or warn of a dangerous condition. The case went to trial, and the trial court submitted a general negligence question to the jury. The jury found the scaffolding company was negligent and awarded the employee $2 million in past and future damages. The scaffolding company appealed, arguing that the court should not have submitted a general negligence question to the jury because the claim was a premises liability claim.

Premises Liability Claims vs. Negligence Claims

If a person is injured on another party’s property, the person may have a premises liability claim or negligence claim against the property owner. Negligence and premises liability are two different theories of recovery and require plaintiffs to prove different elements. Texas courts have explained that if an injury is a result of the property’s condition, premises liability principles apply. In contrast, if the injury is a result of a contemporaneous, negligent activity on the property, general negligence principles apply.

In a premises liability claim, a plaintiff alleges that a property owner or occupier failed to use ordinary care to reduce or eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a condition on the premises of which the owner or occupier knew or should have known. Under Texas law, a premises liability claim may be made against a general contractor that is in control of the premises for negligence arising from an activity on the premises, or for negligence arising from a premises defect.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the employee alleged that he fell because a piece of plywood had not been nailed down. Texas’ Supreme Court determined that this was a premises liability claim because it was based on the existence of a dangerous condition. This was supported by the employee’s complaint because in the complaint, he alleged that the company created a dangerous condition that the company failed to correct. Although the employee argued that the claim was not a premises liability claim because the scaffolding company did not control the premises at the time of the injury, the court explained that the scaffolding company did have control because it was hired to build the scaffolding and was required to inspect each scaffold before each work shift.

Therefore, the court held that the employee’s claim was based on a theory of premises liability, and the case should not have been submitted to the jury under a general negligence theory, so the verdict could not support the employee’s recovery. In addition, the court concluded that since the employee failed to submit a premises liability claim to the jury, the employee waived his premises liability claim, and it entered judgment in favor of the scaffolding company.

Have You Been Injured?

If you have been injured, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages. The attorneys at Carabin Shaw aggressively represent individuals across Texas who have suffered catastrophic injuries and tragic wrongful deaths. We are dedicated exclusively to advocating for the rights of individuals injured or wrongfully killed in accidents. Our attorneys have over 200 years of combined experience in Texas construction injury law and are ready to help clients find solutions to the challenges that arise after a serious accident. Call us at 1-800-862-1260 or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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Liability After Texas Freshman Killed on Campus?, Texas Injury Lawyers Blog, February 13, 2018

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