I slipped in a store and was hurt pretty badly. What do I need to know and how can I get compensation?

Premises Liability (“Slip and Fall” Lawsuits)

We’ve all heard of (or known) someone who slipped and fell in a store or tripped over something in someone’s lawn and suffered an injury. Both of these things could be cause for a lawsuit.

Injuries On Someone Else’ Property Are Covered Under the Laws of Negligence

There are two areas of Texas state law covering such injuries and both are related to negligence. Negligence is the legal term for carelessness.

When a person or company is not careful enough, the law requires the person or company to pay for the damages that carelessness caused.

For example, if a building manager ignored signs that an elevator was not working correctly (noises, abrupt stops), anyone injured in that elevator might be able to recover from the building owner.

Two Types of Negligence Law

There are two types of negligence law that apply when someone is injured on or by another’s property. It’s important to know the difference as each area has different elements that you have to prove in order to win your case.

Ongoing Activity

To receive compensation in a regular negligence case, there has to be an ongoing, negligent act by the defendant.

For example: You’re putting a new roof on your home and a case of shingles slides off the roof and hits someone, causing them to be hurt.

Your ongoing careless act (not securing the shingle case) might be negligence. Under Texas law, you might have to pay damages to the person who was hit.

In the case of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Garza, a customer was injured by a heavy box that fell while an employee was placing it on the shelf. Stocking a retail store is an ongoing activity and this was a regular negligence case.

NOTE:  The easiest way for a landowner to deal with a dangerous condition is often simply to include a warning so that everyone can avoid the danger.

Premises Liability

To prove a premises liability negligence case, the person’s injury must be caused by a “condition on the land.” 

For example, a store owner who mops the floor may not have done anything careless. But leaving it slippery is a dangerous condition on the land.

Customers who are injured while walking on it might be able to sue for negligence under a premises liability theory.

The easiest way for a landowner to deal with a dangerous condition is often simply to include a warning so that everyone can avoid the danger.

The Duty to Warn in Premises Liability Negligence Lawsuits in Texas

Landlords Have a Duty to Warn Invitees About Hidden Dangers

Someone who comes onto the land with the owner’s knowledge and benefit is called an invitee. For example, customers shopping at a store or dining at a restaurant are invitees.

Under Texas statutory and case law:

  • When there is an unreasonably dangerous condition
  • That is concealed(not open or obvious – for example, a wobbly step), and
  • The invitee does not know about the condition or risk of harm, but
  • The landowner knows or should know about it,
  • Then the landowner has a duty to make the condition safe, or warn the invitee.the necessary-use and criminal-activity exceptions.

Landlords May Still Be Responsible, Even When the Invitee Knows About the Danger

There are two exceptions to the general Duty to Warn in Premises Liability lawsuits under Texas law. Under these exceptions, the Landlord still has a duty to warn of danger and reduce the risk of injury, even when the invitee actually knew about the dangerous condition.

Necessary-Use Exception

Under the necessary-use exception:

  • When an Invitee has no choice but to use unsafe premises,
  • If the Landlord should have guessed the Invitee might need to use the unsafe premises,
  • Then Landlord is responsible if the Invitee is hurt.

For example, in the case of Parker v. Highland Park, Inc., a person had to use the stairs to exit an apartment. The stairs were dark because the lights were on a timer that had not been set properly.

The landowner should have known someone might use the stairs to exit the apartment. The person leaving knew it was dangerous to walk down the darkened stairs. But there was no other exit.

So the landowner’s carelessness in setting the timer was negligence.

Criminal-Activity Exception
No Duty to Protect From Other’s Criminal Behavior

In general, a premises owner does not have to protect invitees from criminal acts by other people.

For example: You’re at the convenience store and there’s a robbery and shootout. You can probably sue the robber, but you usually cannot sue the store owner.

Except When the Landowner Should Expect It

Under the criminal-activity exception, the landowner might still be responsible if the landowner knew or had reason to know there would possibly be a risk to invitees.

For example: A holiday resort keeps having to break up bar fights among a group of college students visiting for the weekend.

This means the hotel owners know or have reason to know that when those students are at the bar, other hotel patrons (invitees) might be in danger.

The next day, the students who were fighting show up at the bar again, and there is tension. The hotel bar staff does nothing. If there is a fight and a bystander is hurt, the bystander can sometimes sue the hotel owners.

In fact this actually happened, in the case of Del Lago Partners and BMC v. Smith.

There Are No Slam Dunks in Premises Liability Law

However, just because the owners in both exceptions failed to perform their duties, doesn’t mean the injured parties automatically win.

Under Texas law, if you are partly at fault for an accident, the amount of money you receive for your injuries may be reduced, or you may not recover at all.

So in the holiday resort example of Del Lago Partners and BMC v. Smith, if a jury could find that the people injured should have known to leave the bar before the fight, they might receive less money. Someone who decided to get involved in the fight might not recover anything.

The truth is, premises liability cases are complex. If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, you need an experienced Texas personal injury lawyer on your side. Call Justinian and Associates today for a free consultation.