Mopping nearby sufficient for jury to find County had actual knowledge of wet floor and dangerous condition says Beaumont Court of Appeals

Jefferson County, Texas v. Noryour Akins 09-14-00017-CV (Tex. App. – Beaumont, February 25, 2016)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act slip and fall case in a county jail. The jury awarded Akin damages and Beaumont Court of Appeals affirmed.

Akins, a Mid-State Services, Inc. employee working at the Jefferson County Jail, slipped and fell while leaving the jail after her shift ended. She was in control of the kitchen area of the County jail and supervised between eight and twenty-two inmates in food preparation. When inmates took prepared food down the hall on trays, sometimes water would spill, down the cart and onto the floor. After her shift was over and she was leaving, Akin noticed a County employee mopping the floor some ways away. Akins testified that she spoke to the employee as she walked through the doorway and then her foot hit something slippery on the floor.  She fell and was injured. The map bucket had a sign noting the floor area was slippery.  Witnesses said the floor appeared damp and wet but the employee who was supervising the mopping testified the floor where Akins fell was not wet. After a jury returned a verdict for Akins, the County filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict which was denied. The County appealed.

County argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the jury’s findings. In evaluating a factual sufficiency (insufficient evidence) challenge, courts consider and weigh all of the evidence, not just the evidence that supports the finding. Akins alleged and argued at trial that the County failed to warn her of a dangerous condition that created an unreasonable risk of which the County was aware and she was not. A number of Texas courts have found that indoor wet floors can pose an unreasonably dangerous condition. While the parties dispute whether there was water on the floor, sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable trier of fact to conclude water existed and was the cause of Akin’s fall. The jury could also have disbelieved the employee’s statement of knowledge and sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable jury to believe the County crew had mopped the area and knew of the dangerous condition. Next, a jury could have reasonably concluded Akins did not have knowledge of the slippery area prior to her fall and had no proportionate responsibility for the injuries. [Comment: essentially all of the holdings are that sufficient evidence existed for a jury to find they way they did and the court will not disturb the jury’s decision.] Finally, the damages were proper.

The dissent asserts the evidence is legally insufficient to establish the County had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. Proximity to a defect is not knowledge of the defect or that it is dangerous. Further, the County is under no obligation to warn a plaintiff of a condition they are responsible for and Akin testified part of her responsibilities included ensuring clean-up of spills while delivering food.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Chief Justice McKeithen, Justice Kreger and Justice Johnson.  Opinion by Justice Kreger. Dissent by   The attorney listed for Jefferson County is Gerald Riedmueller.  The attorney listed for Akins is Marc Henry