Campground on river sued when river rose, flooding the campground and washing plaintiff’s downstream.
State: Texas, Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
Plaintiff: Cynthia Walker, Individually and on Behalf of the Estate of Norman Walker; Stephen Walker; Stephanie Walker Hatton; Jordan Walker; and Caren Ann Johnson
Defendant: UME, Inc. d/b/a Camp Huaco Springs; WWGAF, Inc. d/b/a Rockin ‘R’ River Rides; William George Rivers; and Richard Duane Rivers
Plaintiff Claims: negligence, premises liability, and gross negligence
Defendant Defenses: No Duty and Texas Recreational Use Statute
Holding: For the defendants
Two couples took their RV’s to the defendant’s campground for the weekend. The first day the plaintiff’s took a canoe trip past the campground and took some cave tours. It was not raining when they went to bed. Around 6:00 AM, the surviving plaintiff woke up to a rainstorm and their RV’s floating.
The RV’s floated down the river. One plaintiff did not survive. The surviving plaintiffs sued the campground, campgrounds alleged owner and several employees. The plaintiff’s claims were based on alleging negligence, premise’s liability, and gross negligence. Overall, their claims were based on numerous claims that the campground had a duty to warn them of the flood.
Appellants asserted that appellees knew that the campground was prone to flooding and failed: to warn appellants of that fact; to warn of the approaching storm; to prepare a plan for flood awareness, communication, and evacuation; to have and use speakers or sirens to warn of flooding; to employ someone to monitor the weather and warn and evacuate guests; to have an employee on site during severe weather; and to make reasonable modifications, have emergency communications, or educate guests about severe-weather risks.
The defendants filed numerous motions for summary judgment arguing they were protected by the Texas Recreational Use Statute, and they owed no duty to the plaintiffs. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims without comment. The appeal followed.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The appellate court started its analysis by stating the trial court was right and there was no duty owed to the plaintiffs.
Even if we assume that the recreational use statute does not apply, we hold, as a matter of law, that appellees did not owe the Walkers and Johnsons a duty to warn of or ensure against rising river waters.
Texas Premises Liability Act requires landowners with liability for actual or constructive notice of a condition that poses an unreasonable risk of harm and did nothing to reduce or eliminate the risk.
When an injured invitee asserts a premises-liability claim, she must show that the owner or occupier had actual or constructive knowledge about a condition that posed an unreasonable risk of harm and did not exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk and that such failure proximately caused her injury.
Rain swollen rivers were described by the court as a condition that came to the land, rather than a condition on the land. Even so, in Texas, rain, mud and ice are natural conditions that do not create an unreasonable risk of harm.
Regardless of that fact, Texas courts have consistently held as a matter of law that naturally occurring or accumulating conditions such as rain, mud, and ice do not create conditions posing an unreasonable risk of harm.
The basis for those rulings is that rain, dirt, and mud are naturally occurring conditions beyond a landowner’s control. (“rain is beyond the control of landowners” and “accidents involving naturally accumulating mud and dirt are bound to happen, regardless of the precautions taken by landowners”). Requiring a landowner to protect an invitee from precipitation or other acts of nature would place an enormous burden on the landowner.
Additionally, the court held the plaintiffs were aware of the issues because they could see the river from their campground and had canoed past the campground earlier in the day.
Further, an invitee is or should be “at least as aware” as the landowner of visible conditions that have “accumulated naturally outdoors” and thus “will often be in a better position to take immediate pre-cautions against injury.“
Landowners in Texas cannot be insurers of people on the land for those acts which the landowner has no control, those things we used to call “acts of God.”
Texas courts have repeatedly observed that a landowner “‘is not an insurer'” of an invitee’s safety and generally “has no duty to warn of hazards that are open and obvious or known to the invitee.” Texas courts have held in various contexts that flooding due to heavy rains is an open and obvious hazard. “[T]he owner may assume that the recreational user needs no warning to appreciate the dangers of natural conditions, such as a sheer cliff, a rushing river, or even a concealed rattlesnake.
A landowner can be guilty of gross negligence by creating a condition that a recreational user would not reasonably expect to encounter. However, there was no gross negligence nor negligence because the harm was not created by the landowner.
We see no useful distinction to be drawn between ice and mud, which are natural conditions caused by rain and freezing temperatures, and rising river waters, caused by a natural weather event over which appellees could exercise no control. The June 2010 flood was not a condition inherent in or on the land in question. Instead, the flooding was a condition that came to the campground as the adjacent river, the same river that made the land an attractive place to camp, rose due to heavy rains.
The court then summed up its ruling.
We hold that as a matter of law appellees had no duty to warn the Walkers and Johnsons of the possibility that the river, they were camping beside might rise in the event of heavy rain, posing a risk to the campground.
Because appellees did not owe a duty to warn of or attempt to make the campground safe against flooding of the adjacent river due to torrential rain, the trial court properly granted summary judgment in their favor. We affirm the trial court’s orders.
So Now What?
This is a good ruling. Acts of God have always been outside the control, by their definition and act, of man. Consequently, you should not be able to hold someone liable for such an act.
This may not be true for all situations, or in all states, but for Texas campground owners and landowners don’t need to worry about the rain.
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