The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center v. Courtney Simpson, 01-20-00679-CV, (Tex. App – Houston [1st Dist.], July 22, 2021)
This is an interlocutory appeal in a premise defect/Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) case where the First District Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the University’s plea and dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims.
Simpson was a visitor to the University’s MD Anderson hospital when she slipped and fell “due to a wet slippery floor.” Simpson was visiting a friend who had surgery and was in a patient room. Simpson purportedly left her friend’s patient room to get ice from the ice machine. As she walked down the hallway, she fell and broke her wrist. Simpson asserted that she slipped on a round-shaped patch of clear liquid, about three to five inches in diameter. Simpson allegedly did not know that a clear liquid had caused her to fall until she heard someone hear the nurse’s station point out the liquid and admit they should have cleaned it up. Simpson did not know the identity of any of the persons who were present at the nurse’s station. MD Anderson asserted it did not receive any reports of substances or liquids being spilled or present on the floor where Simpson fell and did not receive any reports of falls at that location before Simpson fell. Simpson asserted that anyone who would have admitted to knowing the water was there must be an employee of MD Anderson. The hospital asserted that an unidentified person commenting on the water does not establish a fact issue that the person was an MD Anderson employee. The trial court denied the plea and MD Anderson appealed.
To prove actual knowledge, the plaintiff must show that the governmental unit actually knew of the dangerous condition at the time of the accident. Actual knowledge of an unreasonably dangerous condition can sometimes be proven through circumstantial evidence. However, circumstantial evidence establishes actual knowledge only when it “either directly or by reasonable inference” supports that conclusion. MD Anderson presented evidence establishing it did not have actual knowledge of a dangerous condition prior to the fall. Simpson testified she did not know what type of medical professionals were present at the nurse’s station and did not know what the admitting person was doing at the station. She admitted she did not see any ID badge on the admitting person and could not recall race or age. She also admitted that she did not know if the person was a nurse or not. MD Anderson produced evidence that non-employees of MD Anderson can be present at a nurse’s station and wear scrubs. MD Anderson met its burden, but Simpson did not dispute MD Anderson’s facts. As a result, the plea should have been granted.