Premises Liability Defined
Premises liability law states that property owners have a duty to ensure that their property is safe and free of obvious hazards for people who enter their property. If a property owner invites a visitor to his or her property and that visitor is injured by a hazardous condition, the property owner could be held liable for the visitor’s injury.
For example, property owners have a duty to ensure that the flooring of the property is not slippery and is free of debris that a person could easily trip over. They also must make sure that their property has good lighting conditions and is properly maintained (ex: no broken staircases, loose floorboards, etc.)
However, in order for the property owner to be held liable, it must first be shown that he or she was negligent. In order to prove negligence, you must show that the property owner knew (or should have known) of the hazardous condition that caused the injury and that he or she failed to take steps to remedy the problem.
Elements of a Premises Liability Claim
- The defendant is in possession of the premises.
This is more than just proving the defendant owns the land. In some cases, ownership is not even required. All that must be proven is that they are in control of the premises. For example, someone renting an apartment could be held liable.
- The plaintiff was allowed to be on the premises.
There is no claim if the plaintiff did not have the lawful right to be on the property. It must be proven that the plaintiff had clear right either by being invited or by being licensed. A trespasser doesn't have the right to file a claim.
- The defendant failed their duty to safely maintain the premises.
The final element is often considered to be the most important. This is often the crux of the case - it must be proven that the defendant had a duty to maintain the property to promote safety and they failed to do so.
To put it simply, you must be able to demonstrate that the defendant owed you a duty, they breached that duty, this breach was the cause of your accident, and finally, the accident caused you damages. Proving those four key elements lends to an effective premises liability claim.
Unique Premises Liability Rules in Texas
Like most states, Texas has its own set of unique laws and exceptions concerning premises liability. These rules can be surprising to those who are not familiar with them. Knowing these rules will help those with premises liability disputes know what they are actually responsible for.
These unique rules include the following:
- Trespassers – Landowners have a general responsibility to keep safe those they've invited on their property. If someone is injured while trespassing, landowners are not responsible for their injuries. However, if the person is trespassing and the landowner is aware of their intrusion while it is happening, there is an obligation to protect the trespassing party from known dangers.
- Illegal Acts – In Texas, a landowner has no responsibility to step in and prevent altercations between two people or prevent another from being harmed by an illegal act of an individual. However, they must prevent such action in certain cases involving minors, employees, or contractors.
- Independent Contractors – If an independent contractor is injured while performing their duties, landowners can be held responsible if they were aware of the danger that injured the independent contractor ahead of time.
- Government Liability - If a person employed by the government is negligent and causes a loss as a result of his/her negligence, Texas law allows citizens to pursue damages.
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.
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.
Common Examples of Premises Liability Cases
- Slip and fall cases are the most prominent type of premises liability cases. This is when a visitor is injured after slipping (or tripping) on another person’s property. This could be from slipping on an unmarked wet floor, tripping over a poorly placed extension cord, falling down an uneven staircase, or any other number of ways a person might slip or trip.
- Swimming pool accidents can lead to serious, even life-threatening injuries. From the potential of drowning accidents to slip and falls due to slippery surfaces, what started as a fun pastime can quickly become extremely dangerous. If the owner and manager of the pool failed to properly care for and maintain the pool, they could be held liable for the accidents that occur.
- Although known as man's best friend, things can become life-threatening when dog bites occur. In the state of Texas, dog owners are held to the "one bite rule" and victims of vicious animal attacks have legal rights to pursue financial compensation.
- Inadequate supervision can also leave a property owner liable for accidents that occur on his or her property. A prime example of a property owner being negligent due to inadequate supervision might be a homeowner who leaves young children unattended to play near a backyard swimming pool. If an unsupervised child falls and drowns, the homeowner could be held responsible.
Negligent Security & Premises Liability
Many don’t realize that negligent security is another form of premises liability. Everyone who resides in or stays at someone else's property is entitled to reasonable security measures. If you were injured or assault due to a lack of security, your case could fall under premises liability law. This may include cases such as battery or armed robbery, sexual assault, or any other crime that involves violent force.
- Inadequate or lack of security cameras
- No security guards or personnel
- Lack of safe lighting
- Broken locks or damaged fencing
What Can Property Owners Do to Avoid 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.
Call (888) 493-1629 for a Free Case Review with Our Top-Rated Trial Lawyers
One of the most important steps you can take following an accident on another’s property is talking to a Houston injury attorney. Arnold & Itkin is well-versed in the complexities of such cases and knows how to identify necessary elements. We know how challenging premises liability claims can be to successfully litigate. Our unwavering commitment to injury victims includes guiding them through the whole process from start to finish, maximizing their chances for victory. If you have been injured, it is in your best interests to get our involvement. Our attorneys have been successful in recovering billions of dollars in verdicts and settlements on behalf of our clients. We do not rest until our clients get the answers they deserve and the financial recovery they need.
Contact Arnold & Itkin at (888) 493-1629 for a free initial consultation. We are here to help you.