Falling item in room was a premise defect case, not a tangible personal property case under TTCA says Dallas Court of Appeals

Laura Constantino v. Dallas County Hospital District d/b/a Parkland Health & Hospital System a/k/a Parkland Memorial Hospital, 05-15-01273-CV (Tex.App— Dallas, October 24,2016)

This is the second appellate decision regarding this negligent case where the Court of Appeals held this was a premise defect case only and dismissed the case.

Dallas County Hospital District (“Parkland Hospital” or “Parkland”) provides televisions in patient rooms secured to the wall by a mount. Constantino’s shoulder was injured when a television detached from the mount and fell on her.  Her original petition sued for premise defect and negligent use or condition of tangible personal property. This court, in an interlocutory opinion (summary found here) held the facts alleged a premise defect only. It dismissed the tangible personal property claims and allowed Constantino the ability to amend to address better the premise defects claims. After she amended, Parkland filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court granted. Constantino appealed.

The evidence indicates this television and bracket had been mounted on the wall for fifteen to twenty years. Parkland used the same mounting system in other rooms during that time period and had no reports of televisions falling from the wall. Constantino contended the television and bracket were defective because they did not include a set screw (or the set screw was improperly tightened), a lock washer, a lock nut, and other parts. Finally, Constantino invoked the integral-safety-component doctrine, alleging that the missing items were integral safety components.. It then fell to Constantino to show an express waiver of immunity under the TTCA.  She remained committed to arguing the television was both a premise defect and the negligent use of tangible personal property.  However, the Texas Supreme Court determined in Univ. of Tex. at Austin v. Sampson 488 S.W.3d 332, 335 (Tex. App.—Austin 2014), aff’d, No. 14-0745, 2016 WL 3212996 (Tex. June 10, 2016) that a claim cannot be both a premises defect claim and a claim relating to a condition or use of tangible property.  A plaintiff may not avoid the heightened standards for a waiver of immunity for premises defect claims by alleging her injury was caused by a condition or use of tangible personal property. The issue is not whether some items of personal property were involved, but whether the personal property created a dangerous condition on real property.  After analyzing the alleged facts, the court held, Constantino was injured as a result of the static placement of the television and bracket. This placement allegedly created the dangerous condition of the room, in this case a falling hazard. Additionally, like the improperly secured extension cord in Sampson, the alleged inadequacy or absence of safety components here created a condition on the premises. Therefore, the “lack of an integral safety component” argument, which applies to tangible personal property cases, does not fit here. Because Constantino’s pleadings failed to state a waiver of immunity under either a premise defect or tangible personal property claim, the plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The Panel includes Justice Francis, Justice Stoddart and Justice Schenk. Justice Stoddart delivered the opinion of the court. Attorney listed for the Appellant: Gene Stuart Hagood.  Attorneys for the Appellee: David Lunningham and James Fendley III