Under Texas law, property owners have a duty to keep their premises reasonably safe. This legal duty applies to both business properties and residential properties. What that means is if you are injured at a store, restaurant or even a house party, you may be able to pursue a claim for damages against the property owner.
For example, if you fall through a rotting deck at someone's home and break your leg, you may be entitled to damages from the homeowner (or more likely the property owner's insurance carrier). Another classic example is if you are walking down a grocery store aisle and you slip in water and hurt your neck, the business may be on the hook for your medical bills and other related expenses.
However, it is not as simple as merely stating that you were injured on someone else's property. There are certain conditions that must be met in order to have a valid premises liability claim.
Can you meet the legal requirements of a premises liability claim?
- First, you must prove that the property owner or operator of the property knew or had reason to know about the dangerous condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm and ultimately caused your injury.
- Second, you must prove that the property owner or operator did not put forth reasonable care in effort to reduce or eliminate the dangerous condition, such as by fixing the hazard or putting up a sign, rope or barricade.
- Third, you must prove that the property owner's failure to take reasonable care of the property caused your injury, which means directly linking your injuries to the dangerous property condition.
Did the property owner owe you a duty in the first place?
But before you even get to these three elements, you must first establish your "legal status" as a visitor on the property, which determines if the property owner had a duty to you in the first place. Under Texas law there are three types of legal status: invitee, licensee and trespasser.
If you are an invitee, that means you have entered the property with the property owner's knowledge and/or consent, which is the case for any property that is open to the public. The invitee is owed the highest standard of care by the property owner.
If you are a licensee, then you have the property owner's permission to enter the property, but not by invitation. A good example of this is a gas company worker who must enter a homeowner's property. In this case, the property owner has a duty to warn the licensee of dangers that the property owner has actual knowledge of.
Not surprisingly, the lowest standard of care is owed to the trespasser, who enters a property without legal authority, permission or invitation. In this case, the property owner must only avoid causing harm to the trespasser willfully or intentionally.
Are you also partially at fault for the accident?
Making matters slightly more complicated is the fact that Texas is a comparative negligence state, which means the jury is asked to determine whether both parties were negligent, and if so, how much responsibility each party had for the accident. The injured person's jury award is then reduced by however much responsibility he or she shared for the accident.
As you can see, while it is certainly possible to pursue damages from a negligent property owner or operator after being injured on the premises, it is a complicated legal process that requires assistance from a skilled attorney.