U-Texas Not Liable for Professor’s Tailgate Fall

     (CN) – A law professor who tripped over an extension cord at a football tailgate party cannot collect damages from his university, a divided Texas Supreme Court ruled.
     John Sampson was walking toward his office on the campus of the University of Texas on Nov. 21, 2009, to pick up tickets for the Longhorns football game that night, according to court records.
     A tailgate party was in progress on the law school lawn, and Sampson tripped over a cord that was powering lights in the trees.
     The professor fell onto the sidewalk and tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder, resulting in surgery and months of physical therapy.
     Sampson filed a negligence suit against the university and Austin’s World of Rentals, which had set up the lights.
     The trial court denied the university’s motion to dismiss the case, but the Third Texas Court of Appeals reversed the decision.
     The appeals court found that Sampson failed to show that the university had knowledge of an unreasonable risk of harm.
     Sampson took the case to the Texas Supreme Court, which also ruled in the university’s favor in a 5-4 decision on June 10.
     The state high court agreed with Sampson that his claim was a premises defect created by tangible personal property.
     “The dangerous condition was the way the extension cord was positioned over the concrete retaining wall, resulting in a gap between the ground and the cord,” Justice Paul W. Green wrote for the majority.
     However, Green agreed with the appeals court that Sampson did not prove the university knew about the tripping hazard.
     The judge noted an incident earlier that evening in which the lights went out before the extension cord was plugged in again.
     “It cannot be reasonably inferred that taking three to five minutes to identify why the lights went out and to plug the cord back into the socket meant that [a university employee] actually became aware of how the cord was positioned over the retaining wall and that it created a tripping hazard,” Green wrote.
     He added that in order for Sampson to prevail, he had to prove that “UT must have actually known of the dangerous position of the cord ‘at the time of the accident, not merely of the possibility that a dangerous condition could develop over time.'”
     Justice Debra H. Lehrmann wrote the minority’s dissenting opinion.
     “The court concludes that some evidence supports the assertion that UT placed the cord, but nevertheless holds that no evidence supports a finding that UT had actual knowledge of an unreasonably dangerous condition,” she wrote. “I cannot reconcile those two holdings.”

%d bloggers like this: