Appeal from the 295th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2015-73364
consists of Justices Lloyd, Landau, and Countiss.
Beth Landau Justice
Culotta sued seven entities for damages after he tripped and
fell in a DoubleTree hotel restaurant. The defendants
successfully moved for summary judgment, which later became
final, and Culotta appealed.
raises twelve issues in his appeal. Because we conclude that
Culotta's premises-liability claim fails as a matter of
law, we resolve this appeal against Culotta on that
determinative issue and do not reach his other issues.
Culotta and a co-worker took a business trip to Houston and
stayed at a DoubleTree hotel near the airport. They decided
to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant. While the two were
being led to their table, Culotta tripped on the edge of a
double-fountain water feature in the restaurant, fell into
one of the fountains, and was injured. Culotta brought a
premises-liability claim against seven entities, all of which
were believed to be related to the hotel or to each other.
Culotta's wife asserted derivative claims as well.
argued that the fountain feature was unreasonably dangerous
in two regards: first, the edging had a low profile, and,
second, there were no barriers to prevent a person who had
tripped from falling into the fountains.
seven entities, collectively referred to as DoubleTree, filed
a dual-purpose motion for summary judgment. They moved for
traditional summary judgment, arguing, among other things,
that they had no duty to Culotta. And they moved for
no-evidence summary judgment, arguing that, after adequate
time for discovery, Culotta had no evidence in support of
several, specified elements of his premises-liability claim.
responded by arguing that DoubleTree was not entitled to
judgment as a matter of law and by attaching evidence in
support of his premises-liability claim, including his
deposition, a photograph of the fountain feature,
an affidavit and statement from Culotta's co-worker
recounting what had happened and what various hotel employees
said to her after Culotta fell.
stated in his deposition that he and his co-worker were being
led to a back dining area. Their path went from the front of
the restaurant, directly toward the double-fountain water
feature, across a walkway between the two fountains, and to
the back of the restaurant where additional dining tables
were placed. Culotta walked past the front of the fountains
and was on the short walkway between the fountains when the
restaurant employee realized he forgot a menu and turned to
go back for it. Culotta shuffled over to let the worker past
him. His co-worker also moved past him. Then, all agreed the
extra menu was not needed. The restaurant worker and
Culotta's co-worker both walked past him again, and
Culotta shuffled backward to let them pass. Culotta turned to
his left to follow the other two. When he did, he
"clipped the ledge of the fountain" on his left
with his left ankle and fell into the fountain.
testified there was nothing obstructing his view of the
fountains as he walked toward them. He could not say with
certainty whether, at the point he turned to his left to
resume walking to his table, he was still on the walkway
between the fountains or if he had shuffled back enough to
have been outside the fountain feature. But he knew his back
was turned to the fountain when he turned left to resume
walking to the table.
photograph in the summary-judgment record shows a
double-fountain water feature rising a few feet higher than
the backs of the chairs at the nearby dining
tables. Between the fountains is a walkway that
leads to a back dining area. Culotta marked an "X"
where a chair was placed near the right fountain, a circled
"Y" where Culotta says he tripped on the left
fountain, and a "Z" where his hands prevented him
from hitting his head on the fountain as he fell in.
co-worker's affidavit and statement recounted what
various hotel employees said to her after Culotta's fall,
including that other guests had tripped on the lip of the
fountain and ...