On April 18, 2008, the Texas Supreme Court ruled on a premises liability case. The Texas Supreme Court found that a premises owner was not liable for a student’s injury sustained when he tripped over over a water hose lying across a campus sidewalk. The reasoning was that there was no evidence of the University’s actual knowledge that a water hose lying across a sidewalk was an unreasonably dangerous condition.
In University of Texas-Pan American v. Aguilar, — S.W.3d —, 2008 WL 1765553 (Tex.), 51 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 795 (4/18/08), Tony Aguilar – – a student at the University of Texas-Pan American – – was walking to class when he tripped on a water hose lying across a campus sidewalk and broke his knee. The student and his wife sued the University to recover damages alleging premises liability. The University filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to plead facts sufficient to establish a waiver of governmental immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act. The trial court denied the motion, and the University appealed.
The court of appeals concluded the University’s safety manual was sufficient to create a fact issue about whether the University had actual knowledge that the water hose presented an unreasonable risk of harm, and affirmed the trial court’s decision.
The Texas Supreme Court reversed, and dismissed the plaintiffs’ case. In so doing, the Court recognized that a unit of state government (such as the University) has a duty under the Texas Tort Claims Act either to warn a licensee of, or make reasonably safe, a dangerous condition of which the governmental unit has actual knowledge and the licensee does not. It also found that, although there is not one test in a premises liability case to determine actual knowledge that a condition presents an unreasonable risk of harm, Texas courts generally consider whether the premises owner has received reports of prior injuries or reports of the potential danger presented by the condition.
However, it held that the University’s workplace safety manual – – which warned of the dangers of obstructing office walkways with exposed electrical cords – – was not evidence of the University’s actual knowledge that a water hose lying across a sidewalk was an unreasonably dangerous condition. Therefore, it did not constitute the actual knowledge necessary to give rise to a duty under Texas Tort Claims Act to either warn the student who was injured or to make the condition reasonably safe.
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