City of Richardson v. Slaver

Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-18-00562-CV (February 28, 2019)

Justices Whitehill, Molberg, and Reichek (opinion linked here)

Plaintiff Slaver alleges she was injured when a water-meter cover flipped open under her, causing her to fall. The City of Richardson argued Slaver’s claim against it should be dismissed on the grounds of sovereign immunity because it was based on an alleged premises defect about which the City had no knowledge. Slaver argued the claim was based on the condition or use of tangible personal property, so knowledge of the alleged defect was not necessary for waiver of immunity. The trial court agreed with Slaver and denied the City’s motion to dismiss.

The Dallas Court of Appeals sided with the City. There was no dispute that the water meter was in the ground under the level of the parking lot where Slaver fell, and when allegedly defective property is affixed to land or other property, the case involves a premises defect. The Court ruled that the water meter included all of its integral parts, including the cover, regardless whether the cover could be removed. But even if the cover itself could be considered tangible property, an item of personal property that creates a dangerous condition on real property is a premises defect. “The distinction lies in whether it is the actual use or condition of the tangible personal property itself that allegedly caused the injury, or whether it is a condition of real property—created by an item of tangible personal property—that allegedly caused the injury.” Because the Court concluded the case involved a premises defect and there was no evidence the City had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying the City’s plea and dismissed Slaver’s claims for lack of jurisdiction.