In Texas and many other states, property owners owe different duties of care to different visitors to their property, based on the reason for the visit. The highest duty of care is owed to invitees, who are people who enter the property for mutual economic advantage. For example, a shopper at a retail store is an invitee of the retail store. A lesser duty is owed to a licensee—a person who enters the property for his or her own benefit.
In Burch v. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, the plaintiff appealed from a summary judgment motion dismissing her personal injury lawsuit against a hospital. The case arose while a daughter was visiting her mother, who was being treated at the defendant’s hospital.
While there, she slipped and fell in a puddle in front of the elevator bank. She sued for negligence. In her complaint, she described herself as a “licensee” of the hospital. She also pled that the defendant owed her a duty to use ordinary care in connection to dangerous conditions of which it was aware, but she wasn’t. She asked for $450,000 in damages, which included her pain and suffering and medical expenses.
The court signed an order that set trial for December, with discovery ending in November. Three days prior to the close of discovery, the defendant filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that since the plaintiff labeled herself as a licensee, its only duty was not to hurt her through grossly negligent, wanton, or willful actions and to use ordinary care to warn her or make her reasonably safe when encountering dangerous conditions of which the defendant was aware, but she wasn’t. It claimed there was nothing to show it had actual knowledge of an alleged dangerous condition that violated a duty of care owed to her. The hospital also claimed that none of its evidence showed that wrongful behavior on its part was a substantial factor in bringing about her injuries.
The plaintiff argued that discovery should be completed and that even though she was technically a licensee, there were factual issues about whether she was an invitee, based on her use of hospital facilities and whether the hospital knew about the puddle. She submitted affidavits in support of herself and her husband, explaining that she’d stayed overnight to see her mother and gone to the cafeteria in the hospital for lunch. She was later diagnosed with a fracture and herniated discs. She argued that she should be considered her mother’s caregiver and therefore an invitee.
Nonetheless, the trial court granted the summary judgment motion. She appealed, arguing that no evidence was provided by the defendant to support its motion. The appellate court explained that she’d admitted she was a licensee in her petition, which was a judicial admission. It also reasoned that whether she was considered an invitee or a licensee, she had the burden of showing the defendant’s failure to use ordinary care was the legal reason for her fall. It explained that she hadn’t challenged the grounds related to no evidence of causation in the summary judgment motion. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.
If you slip and fall on someone else’s property, the experienced San Antonio 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.