Texas hospital slip and fall liability

In one of its last opinions of 2020, Houston’s First Court of Appeals dealt with in interesting slip and fall case involving Houston Methodist Hospital, in the Texas Medical Center.

The case is styled Lujan v. The Methodist Hospital, No. 01-20-00158-CV, In the First Court of Appeals. You can read the opinion here.

When I first started reading the opinion, I expected that the major appellate issue would be whether this slip and fall case constituted a health care liability claim that would trigger tort reform requirements and protections for the hospital. But that wasn’t the issue. Instead, the case addresses the typical premises liability considerations, just in a hospital setting.

Because this situation comes up from time to time, though, I believe it still merits review. Over the past several years, Texas appellate courts have considered and entered opinions in cases dealing with the varied reasons that people might be present on the hospital premises.

For example, in the Texas Supreme Court’s seminal 2015 opinion Ross v. St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, the court described seven non-exclusive factors that courts should consider in determining whether a safety-standards claim is a health care liability claim. The Ross opinion essentially focuses on whether the claim involved health care or was in a location where patient care was being provided.

In the Lujan opinion, that distinction was off the table—it wasn’t a health care liability claim. So, the focus of the First Court of Appeals honed in on the purpose of the plaintiff’s presence at Houston Methodist Hospital when the injury occurred. As the opinion discussed, this is an important factor for determining what duties the hospital owed to the plaintiff.

Premises liability duties derived from an ancient body of common law. The property owner (hospital, in this case) owes the least duty to a trespasser, the highest duty to an invitee, and an in-between duty to a licensee.

In the Lujan case, the parties agreed that the plaintiff was not a trespasser, so the court’s attention was on deciding whether the plaintiff was an invitee or licensee.

An invitee enters the property of another with the owner’s knowledge and for the mutual benefit of both parties. In the situation of a hospital, a patient seeking or receiving care is the customer and, thus, an invitee.

A property owner must either correct or make safe any condition posing an unreasonable risk to an invitee or warn the invitee about any unreasonable risk for which it has actual or constructive knowledge.

In contrast, a licensee is a person who enters the property of another with the owner’s permission or consent, but for the licensee’s own convenience. In the situation of a hospital, a person visiting a patient at the hospital is not a customer. Thus, the visitor is present in the hospital for his or her own convenience and is a licensee.

A property owner owns a duty not to injure licensee by willful, wanton or grossly negligent conduct. In cases where the property owner has actual knowledge of the dangerous condition unknown to the licensee, the owner owes a duty to use ordinary care to either warn the licensee of the unknown dangerous condition or make it reasonably safe.

The dispositive fact for the court was that Lujan was not a patient but was visiting a family member in the hospital. Thus, the court determined that the plaintiff was a licensee, rather than an invitee. Based on this decision, the court applied a lower duty of care of the hospital to the plaintiff, of licensee, and found that Houston Methodist Hospital was not actually aware of the presence of liquid on the floor that caused the plaintiff to slip and fall.

Contact a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for a complimentary consultation on your potential case involving hospital or medical care.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.