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Mis-step May Be Mall’s Mistake
by Ron Davis
A lack of proper parking-area lighting and curb markings may yet prove costly for a Houston, TX shopping center owner accused of negligence in a slip-and-fall lawsuit.
The shopping center is the Galleria, and the slip-and-fall incident involved an 89-year-old legally blind woman. As she was assisted to a car after shopping at the Galleria, she stumbled over a curb despite holding her daughter’s arm as they were walking. Her resulting fall caused serious injuries, and her relatives sued the Galleria.
The garage area where the woman fell did not at that time comply with standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The property manager of the garage admitted, for example, that the curb was difficult to see and was not marked. The property manager also acknowledged that several lights were out in the parking garage.
Evidence also showed that a one-color scheme marked both the curb where the woman fell and the cement floor surrounding the curb. At similar Galleria spots, however, markings more clearly showed changes in floor elevation.
In response to the charge of negligence, the owner of the Galleria argued that it did not know the curb constituted a dangerous condition because the property manager of that area had not passed that information along. Moreover, the Galleria owner contended that the curb at issue was not the cause of the woman’s injuries.
A Houston judge agreed with the Galleria owner and dismissed the charge of negligence. The relatives of the injured woman appealed.
A Texas appellate court reversed the lower-court judge, explaining, “The injured woman said that she did not see the curb, which, along with the evidence about lighting, about floor-color scheme, and about absence of markings, allows an inference that the curb was not properly marked and that the change of elevation was not discernible…. We hold that more than a scintilla of evidence was brought forth regarding whether the Galleria owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the curb’s dangerous condition.” (Harwood v. Hines Interests Ltd. Partnership, 73 S.W.3d 450 [Tex.App.—Houston, 1st Dist. 2002])
Decision: April 2002
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