Every year, serious falls send more than eight million Americans to hospital emergency rooms. That makes falls the leading cause of ER visits in Texas. The serious injury rate is high, and the death rate is high as well. Many of these victims are repeat fallers over age 65.
Typically, the property owner is responsible for these falls. That’s usually true even if the owner only had indirect control over the premises. For example, a victim might fall while visiting a friend in an apartment complex, or an independent construction crew might leave a mess on the sidewalk.
The owner is usually liable for damages if the hazard was not an open and obvious one, like a pallet in a supermarket aisle, the owner knew (or should have known) about the hazard, and the hazard was unreasonably dangerous. Additionally, the owner must have a legal duty toward the victim/plaintiff, as outlined below.
This pejorative term really mans victims who had no direct or indirect permission to be on the property and whose presence did not benefit the owner. Generally, owners have no responsibility to keep these people safe, other than refraining from intentional harm. The stories about injured burglars who sue homeowners for damages are largely urban legends, at least here in Texas.
Most fall victims are not trespassers. But this classification sometimes comes up in swimming pool drownings. For example, a child might wander into a backyard that has a swimming pool or some non-residents might use an apartment pool. In cases like these, either the attractive nuisance exception or the frequent trespasser exception might create a duty of care. Assuming the victim/plaintiff can prove the other elements of a fall claim, compensation may be available.
The Texas Supreme Court has consistently ruled that licensees are people who go to certain places exclusively for their own benefit. Arguably, that definition excludes social guests. The host usually benefits as much from the social interaction as the guest. Under this broad view, a guest of a hotel guest is a licensee, as is a person who takes a shortcut across a parking lot. But that’s about it.
This distinction is important, because if the victim was a licensee, the owner generally only had a duty to warn about latent (hidden) defects, such as loose stairway rails.
Most victims fall into this category, because there is an actual or potential benefit. Shoppers are invitees even if they do not buy anything. Vendors are invitees even though they are on the premises to take the owner’s money. So, the benefit need not be significant, which gives credence to the broad invitee/licensee distinction outlined above.
If the victim was an invitee, the owner had a duty of reasonable care. This duty includes frequent safety inspections and also keeping invitees reasonably safe from criminal activity.
In fall injury claims, the amount of compensation may depend on the owner’s legal duty. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Fort Worth, contact Herreth Law. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.