Premises liability law refers to the legal principles that hold owners and/or occupiers responsible when someone enters onto their property and gets hurt due to a dangerous condition. Premises liability claims are almost always based on negligence, although the doctrine may be applied differently than it is in other personal injury situations. State statutes, municipal ordinances, and local building codes may also be relevant and set standards that an owner/occupier must follow. The “common law” of Texas for premises liability requires that an owner of an occupier of premises must correct or warn of a dangerous or defective condition on the premises that the owner/occupier knew, or reasonably should have known the existence of.
Several different kinds of personal injury cases can be classified as premises liability cases, including:
The basic definition of “causation” is something that produces an effect or result. In the context of a personal injury case, ‘causation” is part of “negligence”.
In Texas, there is a standard definition for proximate cause, which is given to the jury in every case. Proximate cause means a cause, which is a natural and continuous sequence causes an event. This is an element that we call the producing cause, meaning “did A cause B”? Texas adds another element for actually producing because in order to be the proximate cause of an event it must be “foreseeable”. Therefore, you have a cause in fact, plus foreseeability, and that gives you proximate cause. These are not necessarily “common sense” definitions of the words and Texas case law has made this very confusing and unclear over the years. That is why you need to talk to a lawyer who has experience in these types of cases to discuss with you how these definitions fit into your situation.
Comparative or contributory negligence is ALWAYS a part of these cases. The type of proof that you need to be able to show can be the exact evidence that will kill your case. For example, let’s use a basic slip and fall situation in a business. As a customer, you have a right to be in the store, and the store and its employees have a duty to warn you of dangerous conditions that they are aware of. You fall on water in an aisle. How did the water get there? How long was it there? Had the store employees already discovered it? If your testimony as the customer is that, before you fell, you knew the water was there, how it got there and how long it was there, then why did you step in it?
Your negligence will likely be found to be the proximate cause of your fall, because you already knew of the danger and a warning would not have mattered, because you already knew about it. So, if you didn’t know any of that information before you fell, how are you going to prove that the store did? That’s why these cases are routinely denied in the claims stage and litigation is often necessary to get the testimony, video, or whatever evidence is necessary to establish that the store and/or its employees knew or should have known of the dangerous condition.
Talk to an attorney who works on these types of cases and is familiar with the proof that is necessary. I am aware that many “advertising attorneys”, (law firms that run TV commercials or large media blitzes to get clients) often have a rule in place that they do not accept premises liability cases such as slip and fall cases. That is because these cases are difficult to prove and can be a lot of work. My experience has been that these cases rarely get settled in the claim stage and litigation is almost always necessary. Secondly, I have found that, with a little bit of digging, these cases can be very good. Ex-employees of the business must be found and witness statements were taken.
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