Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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A recent case from the Houston Court of Appeals reminds us that, at least in Texas, if you are renting a house and you walk over broken concrete for months, you cannot sue your landlord if you fall on the broken concrete. See Phillips v. Abraham, 517 S.W.3d 355 (Tex.Civ.App. – Houston [14th Dist.] 2017, no pet.). The broken concrete is going to be deemed “open and obvious” at that point and, if no exceptions apply, you will not recover a judgment against your landlord. The case is a victory for common sense.

Facts of Case

During 2012 and 2013, the plaintiff leased a house in Friendswood from the owners and signed a written residential lease. In January 2013, the plaintiff lost his footing and fell while attempting to walk up the driveway which, according to the plaintiff, “was in disrepair with many loose and broken rocks.” As a result of the fall, the plaintiff claims that he broke his back. He sued for negligence and sought exemplary damages based on alleged gross negligence of the landlord.

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Texas real estate law generally provides that a property owner in Texas is not required to ensure that an independent contractor perform its work in a safe and non-negligent manner. In the recent case of Central Ready Mix Concrete Company, Inc. v. Luciano Islas, the Texas Supreme Court reaffirmed that principle, and refused to accept some apparently novel arguments in support of changing that law. The Plaintiff was clearly trying to find the “deep pocket” here, and was making some pretty tenuous arguments to try to get there. The Court’s decision in this case makes sense.

Central, the property owner, was a ready-mix concrete company who hired an individual, Taylor, to come to the property owner’s business premises to clean out concrete trucks. All parties agreed that Taylor was an independent contractor, and was not an employee of the property owner. Islas, the Plaintiff, was injured when another of Taylor’s employee’s turned on a concrete truck’s drum while Islas was inside, severely injuring him. The Texas Supreme Court refused to extend premises liability law to cover this situation.It was important to the Court’s decision that the property owner had neither contractual nor actual control over the independent contractor’s employees. In ruling in favor of the property owner, the Court disagreed with the following arguments:

1. Islas claimed that the concrete truck contained a “concealed hazard”, and that the property owner had a duty to warn him of this hazard. The Court said that while a property owner does have a duty to warn an independent contractor of concealed and hazardous conditions on its real property, a property owner does not have a duty to warn an independent contractor about the hazards of the contractor’s own work.