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Understanding Premises Liability in Texas – What Kind of Guest are You?

Premises Liability claims arise when a person is injured due to a defect on another’s property. Claims for premises liability are generally brought against an owner of a premises, but can also be brought against anyone who controlled the premises at the time of the injury. While most people have heard of “slip and fall” cases, premises liability covers any defect that can cause injury. Attorneys at Morrow & Sheppard have worked with many injured parties covering a large variety of defects that have placed people in harm’s way. A premises liability claim requires the injured party to prove four elements:

  1. The property owner/controller had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition causing an injury;
  2. The condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm;
  3. The property owner/controller failed to take reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and
  4. The risk was the proximate cause of injuries to the [injured party]

In breaking down these elements in more detail, the first thing your lawyers must establish is the legal status on a premises. There are three legally recognized statuses that an injured person could fall under:

  1. Invitee: an invitee is a person who enters the premises with the owner/controllers express or implied knowledge, for the mutual benefit of both parties. Typically, an invitee is on the property with the expectation of financial gain by the owner. Often, invitees are on properties where the public is generally invited. This could include:
    1. Customer/shopper in a store
    2. Diner at a restaurant
    3. Guest in a hotel
    4. Client in an office
  2. Licensee: A licensee is a person who enters the premises with the owner/controller’s express or implied permission, but only for the licensee’s convenience or on business for someone other than the owner/controller. Licensees include:
    1. A person delivering food, packages, or another item to the property
    2. A person performing services like yard work, plumbing, or other service
    3. A friend who visits
    4. A party guest
  3. Trespasser: A trespasser is a person who enters the premises without lawful right or the consent of the owner/controller, but merely for the trespasser’s own purposes or out of curiosity. This legal status is fairly self-explanatory.

The reason legal status is important to premises liability claims is that it defines the duty owed by the owner/controller to the injured party. The duty, of course, is a duty to exercise ordinary care in inspecting and making safe any dangerous conditions, and giving adequate warning of dangers to guests. The key differences in the owner/controller’s duty and the injured party’s legal status are as follows:

  • To invitees, an owner/controller owes a duty of ordinary care to inspect the premises, to fix or make safe any dangerous condition, or give an adequate warning about potentially unsafe conditions. The duty owed to invitees is higher than the duty owed to licensees and trespasser, because the property owner/controller has an expectation of financial gain by having an invitee on the premises.
    • As an invitee, if you are injured you must show that the owner/controller had actual knowledge of a danger on the premises, or that the owner/controller knew or should have known about the dangerous condition. Actual knowledge can be proved by showing the owner/controller knew the condition had caused an injury in the past, or that the condition was reported to them prior to your injury but was not resolved or fixed. Proving an owner/controller knew or should have known about a dangerous condition is often done by showing that the danger would have been recognized by a reasonable inspection, or that an owner/controller or their employees could have reasonably foreseen that an injury could occur if the condition was not fixed. Examples of dangerous conditions under these circumstances include:
      • Defective fixtures like staircases, doors, or safety railings/barriers
      • Wet or oily surfaces
      • Unsecured rugs, carpets, or broken flooring
      • Loose, hanging items
      • Exposed sharp edges hidden to the general eye
      • Tools or equipment lying around
    • As an invitee, if you are injured by a dangerous condition that you knew about or foresaw, you can still recover damages for your injuries. However, the owner/controller has the right to argue that the injury was partly your fault because you assumed the risk of injury by purposefully ignoring or disregarding the dangerous condition. If an owner/controller proves contributory negligence, they have the right to ask a jury for a reduction in your damages based on the percentage of fault you are responsible for. These circumstances often arise when an injured person acknowledges through actual or circumstantial evidence that they saw something wrong or dangerous, and continued forward ignoring the risk.
  • To licensees, an owner/controller does not owe a duty to inspect the premises, but does owe a duty of ordinary care to fix or make safe any dangerous conditions or give adequate warning of dangers to guests.
    • As a licensee, if you are injured you must show that the owner/controller had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused your injury. Legally, it is not enough to show that the owner/controller knew or should have known about the condition.
    • As a licensee, if you are injured by a dangerous condition that you knew about or foresaw, you cannot recover damages for your injuries. This means that if an owner/controller can prove you assumed the risk (as discussed above), you may be barred from recovering damages for your injuries.
  • To trespassers, an owner/controller does not owe a duty of ordinary care to anticipate trespassers, to inspect the premises, or to keep a premises safe. This follows logically as owners/controllers of properties should not be expected to keep people safe on their property when the trespasser did not have permission to enter the property. The only duty an owner/controller owes to trespassers is the duty to refrain from injuring trespassers willfully, wantonly, or through gross negligence. Essentially, an owner/operator would have to purposefully or recklessly injure you in order for you to maintain a claim against them for premises liability. These types of claims are generally less successful than claims brought by invitees or licensees, but should still be evaluated if you are unreasonably hurt.

If you are injured in an accident due a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, contact an premises liability attorney at Morrow & Sheppard for a free consultation to evaluate your legal status and avenues for recovery.

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