In the state of Texas, premises liability law makes landowners responsible for any injuries that occur when they are aware of someone's presence on their property. That includes when someone is on their property lawfully but without their consent (i.e., a government employee), or when someone trespasses on their property with the landowner's knowledge. Even if someone is a trespasser, like a neighbor using their property as a shortcut, landowners have a responsibility to keep their property hazard-free.
This subject is not always easy to understand. To help, here are the basics of premises liability in Texas.
What Are Common Premises Liability Claims?
Premises liability claims are often made after a person is injured because of an environmental factor that they couldn’t control or did not know about.
The following are common reasons for Texas premises liability claims:
- Slip and falls – These are the most common type of premises liability case. Accidents like these may involve tripping over hazards, slipping on unmarked surfaces, or falling due to poor lighting in a walkway.
- Swimming pool accidents – These cases cover anything from drowning accidents to slipping and falling on the ground near a pool. Even empty pools pose serious falling hazards.
- Dog bites – In Texas, dog owners are held to the “one bite rule” when their dog attacks a person. This rule relieves the owner of responsibility if they had no way of anticipating their dog would bite. If a dog has no prior history of bites before the attack, the owner will not be held responsible. However, owners are held liable if they had knowledge of their dog's aggression ahead of time, or if their negligence or violation of city regulations led to the incident.
- Lack of supervision or security – Property owners are held liable when individuals are injured due to improper or inadequate supervision or security. This includes children who are injured on someone’s property because it was not properly guarded or secured against their injury, as in a case involving an exposed swimming pool or trampoline. This is referred to as the law of attractive nuisance. Property owners can also be held accountable for injuries or deaths that could have been prevented by adequate security measures. The level of security required will depend on the type of property and any history of criminal activity there.
Can an Injured Trespasser Really Sue a Texas Property Owner?
In specific and limited circumstances, an injured person might be able to file a premises liability case if they were harmed while trespassing. While this may seem like a strange legal loophole, the definitions of three types of property visitors will clarify why trespassers might be able to file a claim.
Under Texas law, there are three general types of visitors on any property:
- Invitees are expected to be on a property. Examples of invitees include guests at a home, patrons at a store, diners at a restaurant, and families at a theme park.
- Licensees are those who enter a property to help the interests of its owner. For example, a plumber entering a business to repair a pipe is a licensee.
- Trespassers are people who enter a property illegally or without the consent of the owner. This may include a person who ignores signage and jumps a fence into someone’s property. Or, a trespasser can be someone who has been asked to leave a property but does not do so.
A property owner’s responsibility will vary depending on a person’s status. For invitees, property owners are expected to inspect their property and fix hazards or warn them of dangers. Licensees are owed a similar duty. However, property owners are only required to warn them of dangers.
Finally, property owners are not expected to warn trespassers of dangers because they have no way of predicting when they will be on their property. The only time a trespasser is owed safety is if a property owner willfully harms them. For example, property owners can’t harm trespassers with pre-set traps. Likewise, property owners can’t attack or harm trespassers who aren’t posing a threat to them.
Does Premises Liability Apply to Crimes on a Property?
Yes, premises liability can be a factor in crimes such as deaths and injuries caused by violence on properties. This is especially true for areas with many invitees, such as apartment complexes. Owners of apartments are expected to have security in place that protects their invitees—the people who live on their property and their guests. If an apartment owner fails to provide a secure building, allowing for the chance of violence, they might be liable for any resulting injuries or deaths.
What Can Property Owners Do to Protect Themselves from Premises Liability Lawsuits?
The first thing property owners should do to protect themselves from premises liability lawsuits is to make sure they’re maintaining their property. It only takes minor oversights in property maintenance to allow a problem that causes serious harm.
Second, property owners should post warnings for any danger that invitees might encounter. If your building is under construction, be certain to post warnings for things such as exposed rebar, ditches, holes, and other common hazards. Or, if your land has inherent permanent dangers, it’s still your duty to post warnings about them—no matter how obvious they seem.
For added security, a property owner can carry liability insurance. Since every property is used for different purposes, it is best to speak with an insurance agent to determine what type of coverage you should buy for your land. Many insurance companies have policies designed for specific types of properties, ranging from farmland to restaurants.
What’s the Recreational Use Statute?
The Recreational Use statute limits liability for property owners who open their premises for recreational purposes. This law assumes that recreational activities—such as some sports—have inherent and unpredictable dangers that premises owners can’t be expected to prevent. However, this law does not always apply, so anyone injured during a recreational activity should consult an attorney.
Liability & Agritourism
The Agritourism Act can be used to limit a landowner’s liability if a person is injured during agritourism. Agritourism involves allowing people on a farm, ranch, or other type of agriculture business for purposes of tourism and additional income generation. This law limits the liability of an agricultural landowner if they have posted warnings or have guests sign a waiver. Just as with the Recreational Use statute, this law doesn’t always apply, and injured parties should call a lawyer to discuss their options.
What Needs to Be Proven During Premises Liability Claims?
Landowners are only held liable for injuries if certain requirements are met. First, it must be proven that the landowner knew of the conditions that caused the injury. Next, an injury must be caused by an unreasonable risk. In contrast, reasonable risks are hazards produced by weather (which is outside the landowner's control). Finally, landowners have a duty to correct a problem if they know of its existence. If a landowner is aware of a problem but is unable to immediately fix it, they are required to mark hazards with clear warnings.
If you have been injured while on the property of another person or company, call the premises liability lawyers at Arnold & Itkin today for a free consultation: (888) 493-1629.