When a person enters private property, they are automatically granted reasonable expectation that they won’t be injured. That means property owners and even non-owner residents have a responsibility to maintain a relatively safe environment.
The degree to which that safety must be maintained depends on a host of factors, including:
- The property owner relationship to the injured party (an invitee versus a trespasser);
- Whether the hazard was open and obvious to the injured party;
- Whether the injured party was a child;
- Whether the owner knew or should have known about the hazard;
- Whether the danger was addressed, or if not, whether the homeowner issued an effective warning.
There may also be an element of comparable fault that comes into play.
All of these are weighed carefully by our Manhattan premises liability lawyers whenever a new case is presented.
Recently, the Texas Supreme Court took on this issue in the slip-and-fall case of Henkel v. Norman. Although it’s an out-of-state claim, we find it worthwhile to note because the circumstances under which this case unfolded are universal.
It started with a winter day, just after the start of the new year in 2010. A mail carrier in Houston was carrying out his duties on a colder-than-normal day, when the National Weather Service had issued a hard freeze warning. Although there was no snow or rain or sleet reported in the area that morning, defendant homeowner was aware of slippery conditions in her neighborhood because her daughter had slipped and fell on some ice in the road about an hour before the mail carrier arrived.
The carrier walked through the lawn of the defendant homeowner and handed the homeowner the mail. As he turned to leave to continue on, the homeowner cautioned, “Don’t slip.” The carrier took several steps and then slipped and fell on the homeowners’ sidewalk.
The carrier sued, saying he was injured in the fall, and the homeowners, knowing of the dangerous condition on their property, failed to remedy the situation.
The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, finding the explicit warning seconds before the fall was sufficient to shield the homeowner from liability.
In his appeal, the carrier argued the warning was general, non-specific and inadequate. A divided appellate court reversed, finding a general warning not to slip, trip or fall is inconclusive evidence of a warning, let alone an adequate one.
However, the state supreme court reversed, reinstating the judgment of the trial court. The high court found that a warning not to slip would inherently imply a slippery ground, and therefore a specific mention of “ice” was not necessary. Had the warning been something like, “Be careful,” it might have been too general to meet the adequate warning requirement.
Adequate warnings are considered by courts in the context of the totality of circumstances. Although the plaintiff argued the words, “don’t slip” might have referenced a myriad of possible conditions, when considered in the context of where he was and the weather at the time of the incident, one could reasonably infer the homeowner was referencing a sidewalk slick with ice, even if she did not specifically say so.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Henkel v. Norman, Aug. 22, 2014, Texas Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Fajardo v. Schapiro – New York Premises Liability Cases Can be Challenging, Aug. 25, 2014, Manhattan Premises Liability Lawyer Blog