Texas property owners can be held liable for injuries to persons who enter upon their property, including independent contractors who are hired by the property owner to make repairs or alterations to their property. This is known as premises liability. The most common premises liability claims involve slip and falls, dog attacks, electrocution, chemical exposure, or injury caused by disrepair of the property. A premises liability claim is a specific type of negligence action brought as the result of an injury caused by a defective condition of real property. In order to be liable for a premises defect claim, the responsible party must qualify as a possessor of the premises who was in control of the premises where the injury occurred. The responsible party need not own title to the land in question; occupiers entitled to exercise exclusive control over the premises, such as tenants and lessees or general contractors, are under the same duty as owners to keep the property in a safe condition.
Unlike some other states, Texas still maintains a legal distinction between the injured person’s status as being an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. It is the determination of this status that controls the scope of the property owner’s duty to the injured person in a premises liability case. The injured person’s status is that of invitee if he enters onto the real property with the owner’s express or implied knowledge and for the parties’ mutual benefit. The injured person is a licensee if he enters onto the real property with the owner’s express or implied permission, but only for his own convenience or for the business of someone other than the owner. In Texas, a social guest is considered a licensee. The injured person is considered a trespasser if he enters the real property solely for his own purposes or out of curiosity, without a lawful right or the consent of the owner.
The property owner can be held liable to an injured person who is an invitee if:
- The condition on the premises posed an unreasonable risk of harm;
- The owner knew or reasonably should have known of the danger; and
- The owner failed to protect the injured person from the danger by both failing adequately warn of the condition and failing to make the condition reasonably safe.
The property owner can be held liable to an injured person who is a licensee if:
- A condition on the premises posed an unreasonable risk of harm;
- The property owner had actual knowledge of the danger;
- The injured person did not have actual knowledge of the danger; and
- The property owner failed to protect the injured person from the danger by both failing to adequately warn of the condition and failing to make the condition reasonably safe.
The property owner can be held liable to an injured person who is considered a trespasser if:
- A condition on the premises posed an unreasonable risk of harm; and
- The property owner breached its duty of care to the injured person by acting willfully, wantonly, or with gross negligence.
The property owner is generally not liable for injuries to an independent contractor or the contractor’s employees for dangerous conditions arising out of the contractor’s work,
because the independent contractor is in a better position to recognize and eliminate specific dangers arising from its activities. However, there are certain circumstances where the property owner can be held liable for injuries to a independent contractor and such liability is controlled by Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code.