Open And Obvious Naturally Occurring Conditions: Do Texas Property Owners Have To Warn And Protect Against Those?
If you slip and fall on someone else’s property in Texas, you have a right to seek compensation for your slip and fall accident injuries if the condition that caused the accident posed an unreasonable risk of harm and the property owner failed to remedy the condition or at least warn of the risks.
But what happens when the dangerous condition that caused the accident is actually open and obvious and/or naturally occurring? That’s where things get rather confusing, which is why we invited our Dallas premises liability attorney from the Law Offices Of Dorothy Hyde to make things easier to understand.
Four elements of a premises liability claim in Texas
Under Texas law, the owner of the property (landowner or occupier) can be held liable for any injuries caused by his or her negligence or omission to act. If you entered the property in the status of an invitee (someone who enters the property with the owner’s knowledge and for a business purpose), you may be entitled to recover damages as long as you can prove that:
- The property owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused the accident;
- That condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm;
- The condition was NOT open and obvious and/or naturally occurring (even if it was, you need to prove that the landowner failed to exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury); and
- The property owner’s negligence or omission to act was the primary or secondary cause of your injuries.
All in all it’s pretty obvious that you need an experienced premises liability attorney in Dallas or elsewhere in Texas by your side to establish all of the above-mentioned elements of a personal injury claim.
Landowners have no duty to warn or protect against naturally occurring conditions
“Why does proving that the condition was not open and obvious and/or naturally occurring matter so much?” you may be wondering. Let us explain. Under Texas premises liability law, a property owner does not have a legal obligation to warn or protect those on his/her property against conditions that are open and obvious and/or naturally occurring.
By now, you are probably wondering, “Wait, what? Does it mean that property owners and occupiers in Texas do not have a duty to exercise reasonable care to make their premises safe for visitors and customers?” It depends on the facts in your particular case, because Texas courts have ruled time and time again that a property owner’s duty to invitees is not absolute.
Situations in which property owners are liable for injuries caused by open and obvious conditions
While property owners and occupiers are legally required to exercise reasonable care to prevent or reduce the risk of injuries on their premises, in no way does it mean that landlords are insurers of their visitors’ safety. In fact, property owners have no obligation to take precautions or safety measures beyond what can be expected of a reasonable and ordinary property owner.
Rather, the law presumes customers and visitors of the property to take reasonable measures to protect themselves against open and obvious risks. Therefore, seeking compensation for injuries caused by a naturally occurring condition on someone else’s property is tricky if the property owner or third party did not directly cause or contribute to it.
This makes sense considering that certain naturally occurring conditions such as mud, dirt, and ice are bound to happen regardless of the safety precautions taken by property owners.
However, in no way does it mean that property owners are immune from liability in 100 percent of accidents caused by naturally occurring conditions on their property. “When a visitor or customer is aware of the existence and risks of naturally occurring conditions to the same degree as the property owner, the invitee is often the only party responsible for taking safety precautions to prevent his or her own injuries,” explains our Dallas premises liability attorney.
In other words, when the invitee is incapable of taking safety measures to reduce the risk of injury or prevent accidents altogether, he or she cannot be held solely responsible for the accident or injury despite his/her awareness of the hazardous condition.