Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Knorpp v. Hale case brief

Knorpp v. Hale
981 S.W.2d 469 (Tex. App. 1998)

SYNOPSIS: Appellant, administrator of a decedent's estate, sought review of the order from the 202nd Judicial District Court, Bowie Count (Texas), that held that appellant's decedent was a social guest licensee, not an invitee, when he cut down appellant landowners' tree that killed him, and that granted appellants' motion for a directed verdict on appellee's negligence complaint.

FACTS: The decedent of appellant, the administrator of the decedent's estate, visited appellee landowners' home frequently in order to date their daughter. When appellee attempted to cut down a tree on appellees' property, the tree fell on him and killed him. Appellant sued, and the trial court directed a verdict for appellees. On review, the court held that because the decedent was a social guest, and because he was not expecting payment for cutting down the tree, the decedent was a licensee under Texas law. Thus, appellees' duty to the decedent was to refrain from injuring him by willful or grossly negligent conduct.

HOLDING:

Because the tree was not in a dangerous condition until the decedent attempted to cut it down, and because the decedent created the dangerous condition and appellees did not know that the decedent was creating a dangerous condition when he was cutting down the tree, appellees had no duty to warn the decedent about the tree and did not breach their duty to him. Therefore, the court affirmed the order.

RULES:
-A landowner owes an invitee a duty to exercise ordinary care to protect him from risks of which the owner is actually aware and those risks of which the owner should be aware after reasonable inspection.
-To recover, a plaintiff must plead and prove that the landowner (1) had actual or constructive knowledge of some condition on the premises; (2) that the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) that the landowner did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk; and (4) that the landowner's failure to use such care proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries.

CONCLUSION: The court affirmed the order granting appellee landowners' motion for a directed verdict on the complaint of appellant, the administrator of a decedent's estate. The court held that the decedent, as a social guest, was a licensee and that appellees did not know that the decedent created a dangerous condition when he cut down appellees' tree that killed him. Thus, appellees did not breach their duty to him by not warning him about the tree.

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