It was a blustery cold day in Harris County, Texas when the National Weather Service issued a potential freeze warning. A postal worker entered onto the property of a customer whose address was part of his normal mail route. The postal worker walked on the sidewalk as usual up to the unit where he met the property owners. When the property owners were in receipt of the mail, one told the mail-delivery person before he started back down the sidewalk, “Don’t Slip!” On the postal worker’s way back down the walk and out to the street, the man fell on the ice, severely injured his self and later sued the homeowners for damages. The Texas Supreme Court recently heard this case and it required the justices to draw a conclusion on whether the homeowner’s remark of “Don’t slip!” to the postal worker was a sufficient enough forewarning to make him aware of the existence of the hazardous icy conditions on her walk.
When you step onto a neighbor’s property or vice versa, there is a reasonable expectation as a visitor that you or your neighbor will not become injured. At Rocky Law, we have helped hundreds of individuals who have counted upon this expectation and without any prior warning of the existence of a hazardous condition, became seriously injured. Premises liability law holds property owners and/or non-owner residents responsible for maintaining a relatively safe environment for an invitee, licensee and/or social guest and even a trespasser. The kind of incidents or injury-causing conditions seen in premises liability claims most commonly involve one or more of the following: uneven pavement, standing water, crumbling curbs, slippery or rumpled floor mats, unmarked curbs and speed bumps, falling objects, icy walks, inadequate security, concealed holes or excavations as well as defects in benches or chairs. It’s important both as a landowner, renter and visitor to know your rights in order to better protect yourself.
An invitee is someone who is invited onto the property of the owner/non-owner resident. The invite suggests to the invitee that the owner/non-owner resident has taken reasonable steps to assure the safety of the premises. For example, salting ice patches, fixing uneven sidewalks or staircases and removing or repairing any other hazardous conditions would be steps that would need to be taken prior to an invitee entering the premises. Additionally upon entering the premises, an invitee should be told or otherwise advised of any areas that are “under construction” and/or potentially hazardous in addition to the homeowner exercising due care to physically repair or remedy any safety issues.
Licensee or Social Guest
A licensee and or social guest enters the property for his/her own purpose and is present at the consent of the owner/non-owner resident. Licensees include but are not limited to: postal workers, delivery people, visiting family members and solicitors whom the owner has allowed to enter the property either expressly or implicitly. Being a licensee or social guest is much like being an invitee, in that even if your property is not open to the general public, as an owner/non-owner resident you owe a licensee a duty to exercise reasonable care. The property owner must forewarn the person of unsafe conditions that they know about or should know about. For example, giving prior warning about an icy stoop or a broken or unstable railing would be sufficient to accommodate a licensee. However, a licensee differs from an invitee in the level of duty of care owed by the owner/non-owner-resident. No special consideration or preparation need to be made for the arrival of a licensee and/or social guest beyond a making the person aware of the existence of an unsafe condition. Therefore, in keeping with the previous example, the landowner has to either put a sign up or verbally forewarn a licensee of an icy stoop but bears no duty to lay down rock salt or remove the ice.
Premises Liability Trespasser
The word trespasser can be misleading. We often think of think of someone that enters a property without permission and maliciously commits a crime, creates a nuisance or uses the property in a way that infringes or interferes with the rights of a landowner or lessee. This is called an intentional torts trespasser and includes graffiti-vandalizers, uninvited neighbors taking their run of your land’s acreage with their four-wheelers and those individuals entering your property to use a portion of your land as their own personal unauthorized garbage dump. A premises- liability “trespasser,” however, only has to be on someone else’s property without the owner’s permission- no secondary action needed. The property owner’s/non-resident owner’s duty of care for a trespasser is very low compared to his/her duty to protect invitees and licensees. If the property owner can reasonably anticipate or has good reason to believe that trespassing will occur, as in cases where past precedent has been set by trespassers, than even though an owner has told trespassers to get off his/her property, he/she still has the duty to put up warnings or verbally forewarn trespassers. If the owner can’t reasonably foresee that trespassers will enter his/her land; there is no duty to forewarn.
If you were still wondering about the outcome of the postal worker’s case against the homeowners you might be surprised to know that the Texas Supreme court concluded that under the circumstances, the homeowner’s warning was adequate. The justices ruled that the quick-thinking “Don’t slip!” comment the Defendant made in passing was sufficient enough to make a reasonable person aware of the condition that allegedly caused the postal worker’s injury.
The take away from all this is that in many cases, it doesn’t take much to protect yourself and your visitors on your property. When no attempts are made to make necessary repairs and/or repairs to specification, or to provide notice to visitors about to hazardous conditions; property owners are playing a game of chance. Negligence and lack of due care on the part of property owners can cause extremely serious injuries and even death to property visitors.
If you or someone you know has been injured as a visitor on the property of a private or commercial space and as a result has incurred medical expenses, loss of time at work and trouble making ends meet, call the experienced premises liability attorneys at Rocky McElhaney Law Firm today. We are willing to do the investigative work necessary to help win your claim and we have the aggressive legal know-how to deal with dismissive homeowners, business owners and their insurance companies. We don’t back down because the opponent is big or the fight is tough. Call (615) 425-2500. We fight for you.