BUYING A TRAIN TICKET ISN’T “PAYING FOR USE” OF THE TRAIN STATION

City of Dallas v. Kennedy
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-19-01299-CV (June 18, 2020)
Justices Whitehill (Opinion available here), Osborne, and Carlyle
Ms. Kennedy tripped and fell in Union Station train station and sued the City of Dallas for premises liability. The Texas Tort Claims Act waives a city’s governmental immunity for personal injuries caused by a real property condition if the city would, were it a private person, be liable to the claimant under Texas law. Whether the City could be held liable depends on whether Kennedy is treated as a licensee or an invitee. The City’s duty is that owed by a private person to a licensee “unless the claimant pays for the use of the premises,” in which case the City’s duty is elevated to that owed to an invitee. This is critical because a premises owner only owes a licensee the duty not to injure her (i) by willful, wanton, or grossly negligent conduct or (ii) by failing to use ordinary care to warn of or make safe a dangerous condition of which the owner is aware and the licensee is not. By contrast, an invitee must prove only that the owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition.

Kennedy alleged she paid for use of the Dallas train station because she purchased a train ticket to travel from Kilgore to Dallas. The Dallas Court of Appeals disagreed. Kennedy paid a fee to Amtrak to ride the train, but did not pay a separate fee to the City of Dallas for use of Union Station, and a fee must be paid “specifically for entry onto and use of the premises” in order to trigger invitee status. Because Kennedy did not pay a fee to use the train station, she was a mere licensee and had to produce evidence the City was actually aware of the allegedly dangerous condition, which she failed to do. Kennedy testified that a man wearing “a gray top and blue pants” told her that “they should’ve have had that fixed a long time ago.” But this testimony did not raise a fact issue regarding the City’s knowledge of the allegedly dangerous condition because there was no evidence the man worked for the City or ever reported the condition to the City. The Court therefore rendered judgment granting the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing Kennedy’s claim.

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