City had no actual knowledge plywood floor was defective, so no waiver of immunity exists says Eastland Court of Appeals

Joyce Janette Riddle v. City of Abilene 11-14-00146-CV (Tex. App. – Eastland, October 1, 2015)

This is a premise defect/Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case where the Eastland Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of a plea to the jurisdiction for the City.

Riddle worked for the recreational league operated by the Abilene Slowpitch Softball Association.  While working for the Association, Riddle was at Nelson Park which is owned by the City.  She went to turn off a score booth light and stepped on the plywood floor in the booth which collapsed. She sued the City for a premise defect.  The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court granted.  Riddle appealed.

Riddle presented the affidavit of a carpenter as an expert who opined the score booth floor was improperly constructed. The joists underneath the floor were too far apart and since no weather stripping had been installed, the floor had been soaked by various rains. Riddle presented affidavits from other people stating the City had stored equipment under the booth so would have seen the spacing of the joists and the leaking from the rains. The City presented evidence it neither designed or constructed the booth or flooring. No one at the City was aware the floors had developed or posed problems and no prior incidents had been reported. The City performs maintenance on an “as-needed” basis at the parks and had no prior knowledge of defects. Under the premise defect waiver of immunity in the TTCA, the City is only liable if it had actual knowledge of a dangerous defect. This requires the City to know that the dangerous condition existed at the time of the accident and not merely of the possibility that a dangerous condition could develop over time. “A plaintiff cannot establish an owner’s actual knowledge by piling inference upon inference.” Riddle did not present any evidence that someone had made the City aware that the flooring was rotten or improperly constructed.  All she presented was the possibility of a danger and an argument the City should have known it was there. That is insufficient. The plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel: Chief Justice Wright, Justice Willson and Justice Bailey.  Opinion by Justice Willson.  The attorneys for the City are listed as Stanley E. Smith, Kelley K. Messer, and T. Daniel Santee.  The attorneys listed for Riddle are Rick Dunbar and Jefferey B. Galbreath