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Vernon v. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Board and UBM Enterprise, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

July 13, 2017






         I. Introduction

         The trial court granted a traditional summary judgment for Appellees Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Board (the Board) and UBM Enterprise, Inc. (UBM) on Appellant Pamela Vernon's claims against them following Vernon's slip-and-fall injury in a large puddle of water in a bathroom at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW Airport). For the reasons set forth below, we will affirm.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Vernon sustained personal injuries on February 23, 2013, when she slipped and fell in a bathroom in Terminal D of the DFW Airport. Vernon explained that she was walking toward one of the bathroom's stalls when she stepped in standing water, fell, and slid into the stall. Although she did not see the water before she fell, she examined it afterwards. Vernon said that the water spanned "the whole length of the whole thing. It was [on] all of them, all of the stalls." The water was clear, not dirty, and Vernon did not know how long it had been on the floor or how it got there. Vernon said no signs had been posted in the bathroom warning of the water, and she did not see any airport employees or janitorial/housekeeping workers in the bathroom.

         When Vernon slipped and fell, UBM had contracted with the Board-the operator of the DFW Airport-to clean Terminal D of the airport, including cleaning the bathrooms located in Terminal D. According to Jimmy Oh, UBM's Vice President, UBM crews "routinely cleaned and inspected each bathroom [in Terminal D] twice an hour and cleaned up any spills or debris on the floor of the bathrooms as part of [that] process." Oh said that the bathroom in question "would not have gone without an inspection and cleaning for more than 30 minutes" and that prior to Vernon's fall, "no spill or maintenance need had been reported to UBM concerning any water on the floor in any of the bathrooms located [in] Terminal D." Oh also stated that UBM "had not discovered any water on the floors in the bathroom where [Vernon] allegedly fell prior to her fall" and that "[n]o employee with UBM or . . . [the Board] was aware of any water spill in the bathrooms located in Terminal D . . . prior to the time of [Vernon's fall]."

         Vernon sued Appellees alleging claims for premises liability, negligent activity, and negligence. Appellees' motion for traditional summary judgment asserted that they were entitled to judgment on Vernon's claims as a matter of law because they had conclusively negated the actual-or-constructive-knowledge element and the invitee element of Vernon's premises liability claim and had conclusively negated the proximate cause element of Vernon's negligent activity and negligence claims, assuming those causes of action exist based on the present facts. Vernon filed a response and two supplemental responses to Appellees' traditional motion for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court signed a summary judgment for Appellees and decreed that Vernon take nothing. This appeal followed.

         Vernon raises two issues arguing that summary judgment on her premises liability claim was improper because she raised genuine issues of material fact on the invitee and actual-or-constructive-knowledge elements of that claim.[2]

         III. Standard of Review

         We review a summary judgment de novo. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex. 2010). We consider the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, crediting evidence favorable to the nonmovant if reasonable jurors could, and disregarding evidence contrary to the nonmovant unless reasonable jurors could not. Mann Frankfort Stein & Lipp Advisors, Inc. v. Fielding, 289 S.W.3d 844, 848 (Tex. 2009). We indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. 20801, Inc. v. Parker, 249 S.W.3d 392, 399 (Tex. 2008). A defendant who conclusively negates at least one essential element of a cause of action is entitled to summary judgment on that claim. Frost Nat'l Bank v. Fernandez, 315 S.W.3d 494, 508 (Tex. 2010), cert. denied, 562 U.S. 1180 (2011); see Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(b), (c). Once the defendant produces sufficient evidence to establish the right to summary judgment, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to come forward with competent controverting evidence that raises a fact issue. Van v. Peña, 990 S.W.2d 751, 753 (Tex. 1999).

         IV. The Elements of a Premises Liability Claim

         The essential elements of a premises liability claim are: (1) actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the premises by the owner or occupier; (2) that the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) that the owner or occupier did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and (4) that the owner or occupier's failure to use such care proximately caused the plaintiff's injury. Daitch v. Mid-Am. Apartment Communities, Inc., 250 S.W.3d 191, 194 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2008, no pet.). Whether a plaintiff must prove actual or constructive knowledge of the condition by the owner or occupier depends on the status of the plaintiff at the time of the incident giving rise to the suit. QuickTrip Corp. v. Goodwin, 449 S.W.3d 665, 670 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2014, pet. denied). When the plaintiff is a licensee, she must establish that the owner or occupier had actual knowledge of the condition; when the plaintiff is an invitee, however, the plaintiff may establish the knowledge element by demonstrating that the owner or occupier had either ...

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