Property owners have specific duties owed to those who enter the premises. Those duties can vary depending on the kind of property and what business those entering have on site. (For example, a property owner would owe a lesser duty to a trespasser than to a business invitee, though sometimes exceptions are made when the trespasser is a child.)
Generally, the duty of a property owner – commercial or private – is to maintain a property reasonably free of hazards. When dangerous conditions exist that are not obvious, property owners are required to either fix them or offer adequate warning of the peril. This principle is generally applicable to premises liability law in most states.
Our Naples injury attorneys understand that in the recent case of Henkle v. Norman, before the Texas Supreme Court, the question was whether the warning offered was adequate.
The adequacy of a warning in premises liability claims can depend on a number of factors, but generally, the courts are going to consider the totality of the circumstances, including the status of the injured party, the nature of the hazard and whether there were any posted signs or verbal indications.
You may have noted if you walk into a grocery store on a rainy day that there are signs posted at the entrance warning, “Caution: Wet Floor.” This is an effort to warn you, a business invitee, of a danger that may not be obvious upon your entry. Such a sign clearly states the potential danger. However, if the sign only said, “Caution,” without noting the specific danger, one might argue the warning was not adequate.
In the Henkle case, the plaintiff was a mail delivery person and the defendants were homeowners. It was a Saturday morning in Austin, and colder-than-usual, with a forecast of a hard freeze possibly hitting the area that weekend. Although it hadn’t actually rained or snowed that day, one of the homeowners was aware of icy conditions in the area because her daughter had slipped and fallen in the roadway earlier that morning.
The mail carrier walked through the defendant’s yard and handed her the mail. As he turned to walk away, she called out, “Don’t slip.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened, and he suffered injuries as a result.
He later sued on the basis of premises liability, arguing homeowners were aware of ice on the sidewalk but failed to address it or warn plaintiff of possible danger.
Defendants argued the statement “Don’t slip” was a warning, and the trial court agreed. The appellate court reversed, finding the instruction to be “general” and “not conclusive evidence of a warning.”
The Texas Supreme Court, however, reinstated the trial court’s order. In its reasoning, the court indicated in order to be adequate, a warning must be “more than a general instruction.” It has to notify of the particular condition.
So for example, a speed limit sight is not considered an adequate warning of an upcoming pothole. A sign urging drivers to travel “SLOW” is not an adequate warning of construction work in the roadway ahead.
By contrast, a cashier warning a customer to “watch the wet spot” was deemed by the court an adequate warning of a slippery floor.
In the Henkle case, the court found the “Don’t slip” warning adequate considering the totality of the circumstances. It specifically indicated a walking surface that was slippery, and the weather forecast that day had indicated there would likely be a hard freeze in the region.
Every case is going to be different, so it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney regarding whether a premises liability claim is worth pursuing.
If you have been injured in Naples, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Henkle v. Norman, Aug. 22, 2014, Texas Supreme Court
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Carman v. Tinkes – Cause of Crash Critical to Damage Recovery, Aug. 18, 2014, Naples Injury Lawyer Blog