Thursday, April 16, 2015
Premises Liability Case - Necessary Elements of Proof (2015)
PREMISES LIABILITY CLAIMS IN TEXAS - ELEMENTS OF PROOF
In a premises liability case, the plaintiff must establish a duty owed to the plaintiff, breach of the duty, and damages proximately caused by the breach. Del Lago Partners, Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d 762, 767 (Tex. 2010)(citations omitted); Chappell v. Allen, 414 S.W.3d 316, 323 (Tex.App.-El Paso 2013, no pet.)(threshold question in a premises liability case, as with any cause of action based on negligence, is existence of and violation of a duty).
Whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court and turns "on a legal analysis balancing a number of factors, including the risk, foreseeability, and likelihood of injury, and the consequences of placing the burden on the defendant." Del Lago Partners, Inc., 307 S.W.3d at 767.
STATUS OF INJURED PARTY IN RELATION TO PRESENCE ON PROPERTY WHERE INJURY OCCURRED IS IMPORTANT
The duty owed by a premises owner or occupier is determined by the status of the complaining party at the time and place of injury. Scott & White Mem'l Hosp. v. Fair, 310 S.W.3d 411, 412 (Tex. 2010); Del Lago Partners, Inc., 307 S.W.3d at 767 (in premises liability cases, scope of duty turns on the plaintiff's status); Chappell, 414 S.W.3d at 323. The status of the complaining party in a premises liability case may be that of an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. See Scott & White Mem'l Hosp., 310 S.W.3d at 412 (invitee); Texas-Louisiana Power Co. v. Webster, 91 S.W.2d 302, 306 (Tex. 1936)(licensee and trespasser); Chappell, 414 S.W.3d at 323 (invitee and licensee); Forester v. El Paso Elec. Co., 329 S.W.3d 832, 837 (Tex.App.-El Paso 2010, no pet.)(invitee and licensee); Wong v. Tenet Hosp. Ltd, 181 S.W.3d 532, 537 (Tex.App.-El Paso 2005, no pet.)(examining status as invitee, licensee, and trespasser); City of El Paso v. Zarate, 917 S.W.2d 326, 330 (Tex.App.-El Paso 1996, no writ)(trespasser and licensee); see also Montes v. Indian Cliffs Ranch, Inc., 946 S.W.2d 103, 106 (Tex.App.-El Paso 1997, writ denied)(status may change based on person's location on premises).
An invitee is a person who enters the premises of another at the express or implied invitation of the owner or occupier for the parties' mutual benefit. Chappell, 414 S.W.3d at 323; Forester, 329 S.W.3d at 837.
Diez was Alaska's invitee. Generally, a property owner owes an invitee a duty to use ordinary care to reduce or eliminate an unreasonable risk of harm created by a premises condition about which the property owner knew or should have known. See Del Lago Partners, Inc., 307 S.W.3d at 767; TXI Operations, L.P. v. Perry, 278 S.W.3d 763, 764-65 (Tex. 2009)(premises owners and occupiers owe a duty to keep their premises safe for invitees against known conditions that pose unreasonable risks of harm). The duty is to "take whatever action is reasonably prudent under the circumstances to reduce or to eliminate the unreasonable risk from that condition." TXI Operations, L.P., 278 S.W.3d at 764-65 (quoting Corbin v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 648 S.W.2d 292, 295 (Tex. 1983)). When such a duty is owed, the premises owner or occupier must either adequately warn of the dangerous condition or make the condition reasonably safe. See TXI Operations, L.P., 278 S.W.3d at 765; State v. Williams, 940 S.W.2d 583, 584 (Tex. 1996)(per curiam).
Thus, as an invitee asserting a premises liability claim, Diez was required to prove: (1) actual or constructive knowledge of some condition on the premises by the owner/operator; (2) the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) the owner/operator did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and (4) the owner/operator's failure to use such care proximately caused the plaintiff's injury. CMH Homes, Inc. v. Daenen, 15 S.W.3d 97, 99 (Tex. 2000).
SOURCE: EL PASO COURT OF APPEALS - No. 08-13-00144-CV - 1/7/2015