Texas Supreme Court Clarifies Slip and Fall Accident Law at Sporting Events

If a person is injured by an unreasonably dangerous condition on city or state property while watching a youth baseball game, can he or she bring a claim under Texas law? Our law firm recently brought this issue before the Texas Supreme Court in the case Lawson v. City of Diboll, No. 15-0037, Tx. Sup. Ct. (Sept. 18, 2015).

The facts of the case are as follows: Plaintiff was the grandmother of a girl at the Diboll Youth Baseball League, and was a spectator at the baseball complex owned by the City of Diboll. After the game, she tripped on a hollow pipe protruding from the paved sidewalk. The pipe was hollow because it was intended to hold a pole to prevent cars from entering the complex, but the pole was missing. She did not expect a four-inch pipe to be sticking out in the middle of the sidewalk and tripped, as she was walking in a crowd of people and did not see the pipe. So is this a typical premises liability case? Not quite.

What is the Recreational Use Statute in Texas?

The City of Diboll asked the court to throw out the lawsuit due to the Recreational Use Statute. The recreational use statute is a law that protects landowners from liability when someone is injured on  land open for “recreation.”  If a person is on land for recreational use, he or she can only hold the land owner responsible for an injury if the landowner was “grossly negligent,” which is a nearly impossible standard, much higher than mere negligence.  Recreation is defined in the statute as outdoor activities involving the enjoyment of nature. Things like hunt, fishing, and hiking are listed as examples in the statute. The idea is that if you let people come on your land free of charge to enjoy nature and the outdoors, you cannot be sued because you left the property in its natural condition, even if that condition is dangerous.

The 159th district Court in Angelina County decided that the statute was not intended to apply to the facts of this case and denied the City’s request to throw out the lawsuit. However, the City appealed that decision and the appeals court found that the recreational use statute applied to this case even though the grandmother was only a spectator at a softball game and was actually in the process of exiting the facility when the fall occurred.  Because the evidence in the case only supported a finding of negligence, rather than the gross negligence required by the statute, the Appellate Court in Tyler, Texas overturned the trial court’s decision.

Was the Plaintiff Engaged in Recreational Activity as a Spectator at this Sporting Event?

After the appeals court handed down its opinion, we took our client’s case to the Texas Supreme Court. Our highest state court decided that the Recreational Use Statute did not apply to the facts of this case, and overturned the Tyler Court’s decision to dismiss the case.

The Texas Supreme Court held that being a spectator or even a participant at a competitive sporting event was not covered under the recreational use statute. The court pointed out that the statute was written to apply to natural or agricultural land, not a facility specifically built for competitive sporting events.

Questions about premises liability or a slip and fall case in Texas? The personal injury lawyers at Mike Love & Associates, LLC can answer your questions for free.