Texas Landowners Part 1: Introduction to Premises Liability and Negligence Claims
If you own a rental property, a farm, a commercial property, or a home in Texas, you could encounter both general negligence and premises liability claims from those injured on your land. Understanding the difference between the two types of claims and your duties as a landowner can help you minimize liability risks in the future.
The Difference Between Basic Negligence and Premises Liability
After a property-related injury occurs, landowners must consider their legal role in the incident. If the landowner or another person was involved in an activity that proximately caused the accident and injury, the injured party will likely pursue a standard negligence claim. If, however, someone was hurt due to hazards on the property, the claim will fall under premises liability laws. While negligence figures into both types of claims, the role a person actively plays in the injurious incident will determine if the claim qualifies as a negligence or premises liability case.
Proving Negligence Claims
Negligence serves as the basis for most personal injury claims, but proving negligence changes depending on the category of the claim. To prove a person’s liability in an incident, the injured party must identify the owner’s duty of care, the breach of duty that caused the incident, and make the connection between the breach of duty and the injury/damages someone sustained.
For example, let’s say a landowner hires some local high school students to store square hay bales in a barn loft. While transferring the bales to the second story, the defendant releases the bale and it falls on someone’s head causing a severe concussion. In this negligence claim, the plaintiff might show ordinary care during the activity meant paying attention to the task at hand, that the defendant was distracted on the phone (breached the duty of care) during the activity, and that distraction caused the bale to fall and injure the plaintiff.
Proving Premises Liability Claims
In a premises liability claim, proving negligence requires more knowledge of property care and maintenance. To prove a premises liability claim, an injured party must prove the landowner knew about or reasonably should have known about an unsafe condition on the property, the condition posed a threat to those on the property, the landowner did not warn others about the hazard or take steps to eliminate the hazard, and those failures caused the injuries in question.
For instance, go back to the hay barn. Let’s say a landowner stacked the hay bales as high as he could in the barn’s loft with only a rotted timber as a barrier. Later, the landowner held a community event cookout in and around the barn. While mingling in the barn, a rodent scurries through the loft and upsets the balance of the bales causing the timber to break and several bales to fall from the loft and cause serious injuries. Those injured persons might prove the landowner should have seen the danger in leaving precariously stacked hay bales poorly secured, that hay bales dropped from a certain height did pose a risk, that the landowner failed to warn guests or properly secure the bales, and that failure caused injury.
Complexities in Land-Related Legal Claims
In some cases, a plaintiff might file both a negligence and a premises liability claim against a landowner to increase the potential for compensation after an injury. In both claims, the courts will look at the status of the visitor, the landowner’s duty of care toward that visitor classification, and if the injured individual contributed to the incident in any way.
If the defense can prove the injured party was at fault for a percentage of the incident, the courts may choose to proportionally reduce the amount of compensation. Both accused landowners and injured visitors may want to speak with an attorney about their rights and responsibilities after an injurious event on personal and commercial properties in Texas.