First District Court of Appeals holds evidence that the City could have done more to warn the licensee does not show actual knowledge of a dangerous condition under Texas Tort Claims Act

 

The City of Stafford, Texas v. Joe Svadlenak 14-18-00089-CV,  2018 WL 3734021 (Tex. App – Houston [1st Dist.], August 7, 2018)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”)/premise defect case where the First District Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims.

Svadlenak, a claims investigator, was investigating an unrelated incident at the Stafford City Civic Center when he fell down a set of stairs. Ricks, the City’s Director of Recreation, was walking through the auditorium with Svadlenak. Ricks descended a set of three carpet-covered stairs without incident.  When Svadlenak followed he fell. After he got up, Ricks asked if he was “ok” to which Svadlenak replied “yes.”  After his fall, Svadlenak underwent eye surgery. Seeking to recover for his injuries, Svadlenak sued the City and asserted a premises liability claim.  The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied. The City appealed.

A licensee must show that the premises owner had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition at the time of the incident.  Evidence that the premises owner could have done more to warn the licensee does not show awareness of a dangerous condition as necessary to waive immunity. Similarly, evidence showing only that a premises owner “knew of a safer, feasible alternative design” does not indicate that the owner had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. “[A] condition is not unreasonably dangerous simply because it is not foolproof.” Svadlenak asserts that the “unmarked, unlit stairs created a sudden drop-off which posed an unreasonable risk of harm.” Even assuming that the stairs were unlit, such is insufficient to create a fact question on the City’s actual knowledge. Rick went down the stairs moments before and testified she did not see any dangerous conditions. She also testified no prior reports of falls on the stairs were reported. As a result, no evidence exists of actual knowledge and the plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here. Panel consists of Justice Boyce, Justice Christopher and Justice Busby. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Boyce. The docket page with attorney information can be found here.