Law Professors

Appeals court tosses law prof's injury suit


A University of Texas law professor who says he tore a tendon in his shoulder when he tripped over an extension cord can’t pursue his suit against the university, a state appeals court has ruled in a 2-1 decision.

The Third Court of Appeals in Texas dismissed the claims filed by University of Texas law professor John “Jack” Sampson in an Aug. 8 opinion (PDF), Texas Lawyer reports.

Sampson said he was injured when he tripped over an unsecured extension cord on a walkway between a campus parking lot and the law school. He claimed negligence, a special defect and a premise defect.

Evidence presented by the university indicated that a third party had placed extension cords in the area to install lights in trees for a tailgate event on a lawn adjacent to the walkway, the appeals court said. Evidence also indicated the school was not aware of an extension cord on the walkway, the majority said. The dissent differed on that conclusion, however, citing evidence that university electrical employees walked the site and the university electrical shop had provided extension cords.

The majority dismissed due to a lack of jurisdiction. The court said Texas law does not waive immunity for negligence claims based on a premise defect, the first cause of action. On the second cause of action, the court said, the extension cord did not qualify as a special defect for which the government had waived immunity.

On the third cause of action, the court said there is no waiver of immunity for a premise defect claim unless the plaintiff can show the land owner failed to warn of a dangerous condition of which he was aware, or the land owner failed to make the dangerous condition reasonably safe. In this case, once the university presented evidence it was unaware of the extension cord, the burden shifted to Sampson, the court said.

Sampson told Texas Lawyer he planned to appeal. “We didn’t have a trial,” he told the publication. “How do they know I didn’t prove X, Y or Z, since you don’t have the push and shove, the claim and counterclaim and so forth that constitutes a trial?”

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