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$27,848.30 Award in Texas Jail Slip and Fall Upheld

An award of $27,848.30 to a pris-oner who slipped and fell on a food spill in a Texas jail has been upheld by a Texas state court of appeals in an unpublished opinion.

Mickey Caves, a Dallas County (Texas) Jail prisoner, filed suit against Dallas County under the Texas Tort Claims Act, § 101.101(a), Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, after he slipped and fell on some spilled juice inside the jail. Following a bench trial in the 44th Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas, the judge entered the following findings of fact: There was a foreign substance on the floor of the jail near an opening in the wall where food was transferred back and forth to prisoners, which the County knew was a place where food spills occurred.

Caves was ordered to take his mattress and all of his possessions from one part of the jail to another and was routed through the area with the spill. Caves slipped, lost his balance, fell and broke his hand. Cleaning of the jail's floors was left up to the prisoners who were not supervised or inadequately supervised.

The County did not challenge the findings of fact. The judge found in favor of Caves and awarded him $27,848.30. The County appealed raising the following points of error: (1) the County received no notice of suit as required by the Tort Claims Act; (2) the evidence did not support a finding of gross negligence, which is required under Texas law to recover damages from the government for premises defects; and (3) Caves failed to prove causation because he testified that, had the juice not been on the floor, he "probably" would not have slipped.

The court of appeals held that the fact that the County knew of the injury relieved Caves of the notice requirement, but, even if it had not, an Incident Report filed about the accident gave adequate notice.

The court of appeals also held that the uncontested findings of fact and the testimony of jail officials that they knew that spills occurred "from time to time" in the area, yet left the cleanup of the spills to essentially unsupervised prisoners provided sufficient evidence to support a finding of gross negligence. Finally, the court of appeals tersely held that it did not have to speculate about what might have happened had there been no spill. There was a spill and Caves slipped and fell on it: this was sufficient to prove causation. The judgment and award was upheld. See: Dallas County v. Caves, 2001 WL 493450 *3 (Tex.App.-Dallas).

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Related legal case

Dallas County v. Caves

[U] Dallas County v. Caves, No. 05-98-01565-CV (Tex.App. Dist.5 05/10/2001)

[1] In The Court of Appeals Fifth District of Texas at Dallas

[2] No. 05-98-01565-CV

[3] 2001.TX.

[4] May 10, 2001


[6] On Appeal from the 44th Judicial District Court, Dallas County, Texas, Trial Court Cause No. 96-10481-B

[7] Before Chief Justice Thomas and Justices Moseley and Dodson *fn1

[8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Dodson



[11] In this slip and fall case, Dallas County ("the County") appeals the trial court's judgment in favor of Mickey Caves following a bench trial. In three issues, the County contends the trial court erred in rendering judgment because (1) Caves failed to give appropriate notice of his claim; (2) there is no evidence of gross negligence; and (3) there is no evidence of causation. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

[12] Background

[13] Caves, an inmate at a Dallas County justice center, slipped and fell while he was being moved from one jail center to another. According to Caves, he slipped on a puddle of juice as he carried all his belongings, including his mattress, through an area near the kitchen where food was passed through a chute. After a bench trial, the trial court found in favor of Caves and awarded damages of $27,848.30. The County filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. This appeal ensued.

[14] Discussion

[15] In the County's first issue, it contends the trial court erred in entering judgment because Caves failed to give appropriate notice pursuant to the Texas Tort Claims Act. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.101 (Vernon 1997). The trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law that the County had notice of the accident. A trial court's findings of fact have the same force and dignity as a jury verdict. Thompson v. Harco Nat'l Ins. Co., 997 S.W.2d 607, 614 (Tex. App._Dallas 1998, pet. denied ). Therefore, we review findings of fact for legal and factual evidentiary support, and we review conclusions of law de novo. See Dallas Area Rapid Transit v. Dallas Morning News, 4 S.W.3d 469, 473 (Tex. App._Dallas 1999, no pet. ).

[16] Pursuant to the Tort Claims Act, a governmental unit is entitled to receive notice of a claim against it not later than six months after the day that the incident giving rise to the claim occurred. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.101(a). The notice must reasonably describe:

[17] (1) the damage or injury claimed; (2) the time and place of the incident; and (3) the incident. Id. These notice requirements do not apply if the governmental unit has actual notice that the claimant has received some injury. Id. § 101.101(c).

[18] During the trial in this case, Caves testified he filled out an incident report within a few hours of his injury. Caves also testified that the sheriffs never left his sight while he was at the hospital being treated for the accident. Melvin Mercer, a detentions officer with the sheriff's department at the time of the incident, also testified. He stated that after the accident, he went to "the tank" because he learned from the control center officer that there was a problem. Mercer testified Caves told him he had hurt his hand and asked to see a nurse. Mercer then asked him how he hurt his hand, and Caves said he slipped and fell but did not tell him how he slipped and fell. Mercer then filled out the incident report based on Caves's account of the accident. Caves admitted this incident report, dated October 4, 1994, as an exhibit. This report states Caves "called the control center saying his hand was broke [sic]." After this, an officer went to "the tank to see what had happened." Caves reported that "he was transferred from another tank during the morning shift, and slipped and fell when he walked to the tank, and while he was falling he hit his hand on the corner of the table." The report also stated a supervisor was notified and Caves was taken to the hospital.

[19] Based on this evidence, we conclude the County had actual notice that Caves received an injury and therefore Caves was not required to give separate notice. Alternatively, we also conclude Caves's report and the subsequent incident report established the required notice pursuant to the Tort Claims Act. Therefore, the trial court did not err in finding Caves gave appropriate notice under the Tort Claims Act. We overrule the County's first issue.

[20] In the County's second issue, it contends the trial court erred because the evidence does not support a finding of gross negligence.

[21] A governmental unit is liable for personal injury and death caused by a condition or use of tangible personal or real property if the governmental unit would, were it a private person, be liable to the claimant according to Texas law. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.021 (Vernon 1997). "If a claim arises from a premise defect, the governmental unit owes to the claimant only the duty that a private person owes to a licensee on private property, unless the claimant pays for the use of the premises." Id. § 101.022 (Vernon 1997). If the condition is a premises defect, the governmental entity must simply refrain from injuring a licensee through willful, wanton, or grossly negligent conduct. City of Grapevine v. Roberts, 946 S.W.2d 841, 843 (Tex. 1997) (per curiam). An exception to the above rule exists when the governmental entity knows of a dangerous condition, and the licensee does not, the governmental entity has a duty to either warn the licensee or to make the condition reasonably safe. State v. Tennison, 509 S.W.2d 560, 562 (Tex. 1974).

[22] To support a finding of gross negligence, there must be a showing that the defendant knew about the dangerous condition, but was consciously or knowingly indifferent to the rights, welfare, or safety of persons affected by it. See Brazoria County v. Davenport, 780 S.W.2d 827, 829 (Tex. App._Houston [1st Dist.] 1989, no writ. ). Thus, ordinary negligence becomes gross negligence only when a defendant's acts or omissions show that he knew of the danger and did not care enough to remedy it. Id. Because a defendant's mental state may be inferred from a combination of facts and circumstances, a finding of gross negligence need not rest on a single act or omission. Id.

[23] Unchallenged findings of fact are binding on an appellate court unless the contrary is established as a matter of law or there is no evidence to support the finding. McGalliard v. Kuhlmann, 722 S.W.2d 694, 696 (Tex. 1986). To determine a factual or legal sufficiency point of error, we must disregard all evidence contrary to the trial court's finding, and if there is any remaining evidence to support the verdict or judgment, the trial court's judgment must be upheld. Id. at 696-97.

[24] The trial court rendered the following findings of fact:

[25] (1) On October 4, 1994, a foreign substance was on the floor of the jail; (2) The referenced foreign substance was near an opening in a wall where food was transferred back and forth to and from inmates; (3) This area was known by the County to be a place where food regularly came to be found on the floor; (4) Caves was told to take his mattress and belongings from one part of the jail to another which caused him to go through this area; (5) Caves slipped on the foreign substance on the floor and lost his balance; (6) The maintenance of the jail regarding keeping the floors clean was left to the inmates; and (7) The inmates were not supervised or were inadequately supervised as to the maintenance of the floors. The County did not challenge any of these findings of fact. Therefore, the findings are binding on this Court unless the contrary is established as a matter of law or there is no evidence to support these findings.

[26] Captain Ray Daberko, commander of support services, testified about the area where the accident occurred. Daberko's duties included supervising the feeding of the inmates and sanitation of the jail. Daberko testified the areas where the inmates are fed are cleaned by the inmates themselves. He stated the jail employees provide the inmates with mops, brooms, mop buckets, and disinfectant before every meal and collect these items after the meal is over. Daberko testified the area is cleaned after each meal. However, when asked whether "food ever end[s] up on the floor" in the area where the accident occurred, Daberko answered, "Yes. [The inmates] drop things from time to time, and there are spills there."

[27] The evidence presented establishes the County knew the area had food spills on the floor "from time to time." Furthermore, the County required Caves to carry all his belongings, including his mattress, through this area. Based on this evidence, we conclude there is some evidence to support the trial court's unchallenged findings of fact and therefore the findings are binding on this Court. Consequently, we must conclude the trial court did not err in finding the County exhibited gross negligence. See Davenport, 780 S.W.2d at 829. We overrule the County's second issue.

[28] In the County's third issue, it contends Caves failed to prove causation. The County bases this argument on Caves's testimony that if the juice had not been on the floor, he "probably" would not have slipped. The County argues this statement provides evidence that Caves was unsure about the reason he fell and therefore there was no evidence of causation. We disagree. There was testimony that there was liquid on the floor where Caves slipped. We are not at liberty to surmise, guess, or assume what might have happened if the liquid had not been on the floor. We overrule the County's third issue.

[29] Having overruled all three of the County's issues, we affirm the trial court's judgment.


[31] Do Not Publish Tex. R. App. P. 47


Opinion Footnotes


[32] *fn1 The Honorable Carlton B. Dodson, Justice, Court of Appeals, Seventh District of Texas at Amarillo, Retired, sitting by assignment.