Premises Liability

When can I be sued by someone hurt on my property?

Premises liability in Texas relies upon the idea that there are two types of people who enter your property — those who have a legal right to be there and those who do not. Property owners have an obligation to protect the safety of the former, but state law relieves them of this obligation in many cases when it comes to trespassers. 

The degree of care you must show visitors is proportional to the right of the person to be on your property. 

Duties to visitors  

Owners are typically responsible to warn guests, invitees and licensees of any dangers of which they should reasonably be aware. For example, a property owner with construction underway must alert guests of potential dangers like exposed nails or hazardous equipment. Similarly, the owner of a dangerous dog should warn visitors of the risk and employ measures to protect them. 

When it comes to trespassers, this responsibility relaxes. While property owners can sometimes be liable for trespassers’ injuries, they generally do not have the duty to keep their property safe for those entering without permission. Property owners should still take measures to maintain reasonable safety — particularly when it comes to land that may be attractive to children — in order to avoid litigation. In other words, it is a good idea to place a fence or sign around areas where you could reasonably predict an injury. While you may not be liable for an incident, taking this extra precaution can sometimes go a long way to exonerate you in court. 

Agricultural and recreational lands 

If your property qualifies as agricultural or recreational land, the law offers further protections from liability. According to state law, these landowners do “not owe a duty of care to a trespasser on the land,” and further, do not owe any guest or invitee “a greater degree of care than is owed to a trespasser.” This means that in many cases, owners of agricultural and recreational property are not liable for injuries. The burden of responsibility typically rests on the visitor to practice caution and use discretion in their actions while visiting. 

Remember that no property owner can intentionally injure a visitor or trespasser — nor can they exercise gross negligence without liability. 

Understanding the attractive nuisance doctrine

As a parent in Austin, you no doubt not only worry about the safety of your own kids but for those of others as well. Thus, you likely do all that you can to ensure that kids are protected from any dangers that may be present on the properties that you own. Your hope is that others will repay that same courtesy. Yet like many of those that we here at Byrd Davis Alden & Henrichson, LLP can attest to, that is not always the case. The question then becomes whether or not the property owners of the areas where your children are injured can be held liable for their injuries.

The answer to that question depends on the circumstances that produced the injury. According to the Cornell Law School, the attractive nuisance doctrine holds property owners responsible for any injuries caused by artificial conditions on their lands that may be enticing to young children. The reasoning behind this principle is that children are often not able to appreciate the dangers that an attractive nuisance may present. Thus, it falls to the owners of the properties in which those attractive nuisances are found to protect kids from them.

Say that your child and their friends gain access to a construction site and choose to play there, and your child is subsequently injured. The owner of the site could indeed be held liable for the injury if they did little to keep kids from accessing it. If, however, they attempted to restrict access (either by erecting a fence around the site or posting a security guard), then they may be absolved of liability.

Injured Texas resident sues casino ship over slippery deck

When a slip-and-fall accident occurs, an injured customer has the right to file a legal action for relief even if it happened while a cruise ship was sailing on international waters. After a Texas woman fell on the slippery deck of a gaming vessel, she suffered injuries described as “severe and lasting.” She requested damages between $200,000 and $1 million to recover.

According to the complaint, the ship’s employees announced it was legal to enjoy the gaming at the boat’s gambling hall as the vessel had left U.S. waters. As reported by Newsweek magazine, while walking on the ship’s deck to the gaming room, she purportedly fell because it was slippery from moisture. Since the deck allegedly lacked a non-slip coating, the ship had a hazardous condition that was the cause of her falling and suffering severe harm.

Duty of care to warn

When an unsafe condition exists or is likely to exist, owners, management and employees of the premises owe a duty of care to warn customers. Placing a yellow safety sign that a reasonable individual would interpret as a “caution” symbol where a customer may slip often serves as an adequate warning. If a clear and noticeable forewarning is not present, however, customers may hold companies strictly liable for their injuries.

To succeed with a lawsuit, proving that the premise’s owner knew of a dangerous condition may be a significant factor, as noted on the Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service site. A plaintiff must show an existing hazardous condition caused the accident and the owner failed to correct the hazard or warn customers. Legal action may aid in recovering medical expenses and compensate for the loss of wages while recuperating.

How to stay safe at work during the winter

When the weather is mild, working outdoors is a dream come true. In the winter, freezing temperatures and the accompanying ice and snow can quickly turn that dream into a nine-to-five nightmare. Snow and ice are not common problems in most of Texas, but this is precisely why so many people are unprepared when it strikes. 

Forbes identifies winter weather as one of the most dangerous hazards for people while commuting to work and from work, as well as while on the job. In January 2019, winter claimed the lives of 21 people. In 2017 alone, accidents involving snow, sleet and ice led to 20,000 injuries. While employers certainly cannot prevent these conditions, they should do all they can to reduce the risks associated with them. Employees too should take extra caution as employers do not always have their best interests at heart. 

The United States Department of Labor makes the following recommendations for surviving winter as a  worker: 

  • Commercial drivers should ensure they complete checks of their vehicles for the winter season. 
  • Pack an emergency kit and keep it in the trunk of the vehicle, especially the work vehicle. 
  • When stranded in a vehicle because of bad winter weather involving snow and ice, it is best to remain in the vehicle and call for help. 
  • Temperatures can drop at any time, so wearing property footwear and watching out for ice is key. 

Winter can present a work hazard even when people work inside an office. This is because commuting to work comes with hazards too. Unfortunately, in most instances, accidents on the way to work are not covered under workers’ compensation so be extra careful. 

Airport premises liability: the basics

Those who own, lease or operate an airport in Texas are likely required to carry liability insurance in the event that someone is injured on the property. There are various types of liability insurance, including general liability, public liability, premises liability, and owners, landlords and tenants liability insurance.

It’s important for airport owners to ensure that they have a reasonable contract. If they are unsure about any of the terminology, they should ask before signing anything. The reason is that the contract may contain clauses that are unfair to one party or the other. One of these is called the hold harmless clause, which forbids one party from holding another responsible for injuries or property damage.

Co-owners of airports must keep in mind that they are responsible for the safety of those in the portion of the airport they occupy. The extent of the area they occupy may be determined by written or verbal agreement. Bodily injuries are the most common factor in premises liability claims and cover more than the slip-and-fall accidents that most people tend to emphasize.

Airport owners may not need to purchase a separate policy for liability. Premises liability could be added to their existing policy for little or no additional charge.

As for those who are injured at an airport, they may want to seek out a lawyer who works in the field of premises liability law. Perhaps an individual tripped over a cord, slipped on a wet floor or was injured by a falling object. Whatever happened, a lawyer may hire third parties to investigate the incident and gather proof that the owner failed in his or her duty of care. They may also need to clear plaintiffs of any unreasonable conduct before the case is ready.