Stores and other business establishments owe their customers certain legal duties. If a store does not comply with its legal responsibilities and someone is injured as a result, the store may be liable for the damage caused.
A store has a duty to keep its premises reasonably safe so customers will not be injured while shopping. When there is a non-obvious, but known danger posing an unreasonable risk of harm, a store must provide sufficient warning so that customers can avoid injury.
Spills or other substances on floors can create a falling hazard for customers. Stores often use wet signs and other caution signs to let people know of the danger. However, a warning sign is not always enough to protect a store from liability if someone is injured.
Premises Liability Law in Texas
Premises liability is the responsibility placed on landowners or occupiers to keep persons who may be invited or otherwise authorized to be on the property reasonably safe from known dangers that the visitors might not be aware of. Negligence is the basis for premises liability.
When a person is injured on the property of another and wants to hold the property owner responsible, the following elements must be proven:
- A condition on the property created an unreasonable risk of harm.
- The owner or other person in charge of the property knew or should have known of the risk.
- The owner failed to exercise reasonable care to protect invitees from the danger.
- The failure to exercise reasonable care was the proximate cause of the injuries.
Property owners are only required to act reasonably. The potential for harm from a condition on the property must be reasonably foreseeable to the property owner. If the potential for harm is not reasonably foreseeable, premises liability may not apply.
The law also expects persons who visit a property to act reasonably in furtherance of their own safety. Property owners can potentially defend themselves a premises liability claim by showing that an injured party’s own negligence contributed to their injuries.
Reasonable Care for Premises Liability Exposure
Reasonable care means taking measures to reduce or eliminate the risk of harm that an average person would consider appropriate. What is reasonable in some circumstances may not be reasonable under different conditions.
Warning persons about hazards on the premises is recognized as reasonable care to protect those visiting as long the warning is sufficient to prevent harm.
Are Wet Signs Required by Law?
Texas law does not specify any particular type of warning – such as a wet sign – as necessary for a store to use to warn customers of a wet floor. What the law does require is that stores keep their premises free of unreasonable risks.
Persons who go to a store are considered invitees of the business. The owner or operator of the store has a duty to warn invitees of any concealed dangerous conditions that are actually known or could be discovered after reasonable inspection.
As a practical matter, stores often use bright yellow signs that say ‘wet floor’ or ‘caution’. They may even include a picture of someone slipping and falling so people are aware of the particular type of risk posed by the danger.
But who is liable in a slip and fall accident? Does displaying a wet sign absolutely absolve a store from liability if someone slips and falls on a wet floor? The answer depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the premises liability accident.
When Wet Signs or Store Caution Signs are Not Sufficient Warning
A warning sufficient to protect a property owner or operator from liability for injuries sustained by customers communicates enough information so that the person who sees it understands the risk and can make an intelligent decision about their personal safety.
A wet sign must be clearly visible and able to be perceived in time for the person nearing the danger to avoid it. It must be appropriate for the danger warned of and not misleading. The following are instances where a wet sign or other store caution sign may not be considered adequate to prevent liability for injuries:
- Sign not clearly visible – facing a different direction, fallen over
- Poor lighting impairs sign visibility
- Sign hidden by other objects
- Sign placed so there’s no time to see the sign and still avoid the danger
- Danger is unavoidable, and no attempt is made to remove the danger or provide an alternate route
- There was another danger that the sign did not warn of
Defenses to Premises Liability Claims
A store being accused of premises liability is most likely to respond to a claim for damages with by alleging that the person injured has at least some responsibility for causing their injuries. Texas follows what’s called a modified comparative negligence rule.
The rule allows injured persons to recover damages in personal injury cases so long as their fault for an accident is no greater than 50%. The percentage of fault attributed to an injured person will reduce any award of compensation by the same percentage.
So, it’s crucial that the party seeking financial compensation for their personal injury damages has as little responsibility for an accident as possible. Some possible defenses to a premises liability claim are:
- Danger was open and obvious – no need to warn
- Risk of danger was not known to the property owner and was not easily discovered
- Third-party conduct was not foreseeable
- Someone else controlled the property at the time of the injury
- Claimant knew of the danger and disregarded the risk
- Claimant’s own negligence caused the injuries
Texas Premises Liability Cases Where Wet Signs Were Used as Warnings
One of the elements necessary to prove premises liability is that an unreasonable risk of harm existed on the property. In Estes vs. Wal-Mart, a Texas district court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim for damages after she slipped and fell in the entryway of a Wal-Mart in Dallas.
Store video showed a 45-minute span of time before the plaintiff’s fall. It was raining, and people carried umbrellas as they entered the store. Employees had put out wet signs saying ‘caution’ and ‘wet floor.’ Many people walked in and around the signs without incident. The plaintiff testified she was aware of the wet floors.
The court didn’t need to decide if the store’s signs were sufficient warning because it concluded the risk to the plaintiff was not unreasonable. In Texas, a naturally accumulating condition resulting from weather does not generally create an unreasonable risk of harm to invitees – especially when the person is aware of the condition, and it is not substantially more dangerous than should be anticipated.
In Cruz vs. Braum, a customer slipped and fell in the store while walking toward the drink machine. The customer had walked right past a yellow wet sign in front of the drink machine. She claimed she had not seen the sign even though nothing had blocked her view of it. A Texas appellate court held that the store’s warning was adequate as a matter of law.
A Dallas Premises Liability Lawyer Can Help
When a customer is injured slipping on a wet floor with or without wet signs in the vicinity, all of the circumstances surrounding the incident need to be reviewed to determine if a claim for premises liability is appropriate.
At Wolf Law, PLLC, we will review the facts surrounding your slip and fall or trip and fall accident and give you our opinion on your premises liability claim. For a free consultation, contact our Dallas premises liability lawyers today.