On February 19, 2015, Brian Rawson, and Roy McKay of Hartline Barger LLP obtained a complete summary judgment on behalf of The Mansions of Rockwall apartment complex and its management company, Western Rim Property Services, in a premises liability lawsuit in Tarrant County, Texas.
Plaintiff Spurgeon Sturdevant resided at The Mansions of Rockwall with his girlfriend and her son. On or about June 11, 2011, Mr. Sturdevant exited his apartment after dark to have a discussion with his girlfriend’s son. Mr. Sturdevant walked from his apartment to the pool area of the complex, which is located on a raised, hilly area. To reach the pool area, Mr. Strudevant had to walk up a series of partially railed walkways and stairs. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, he detoured off of the walkway onto the grass. Strudevant turned left while talking and allegedly stepped past the retaining wall without realizing he had reached it. This caused Mr. Sturdevant to fall 6-8 feet to the ground below. Sturdevant allegedly fractured bones in his left foot in this fall. Mr. Sturdevant underwent surgery on his foot at Parkland Hospital following his fall.
Sturdevant argued that the complex was negligent because it provided inadequate lighting and failed to provide railings along the entire walkway to prevent individuals from encountering the retaining wall. Mr. Rawson and Mr. McKay obtained admissions from Mr. Sturdevant that he had visited the pool area before and knew of the retaining wall before the fall. Sturdevant also admitted that he was simply not paying attention to where he was going when he fell. Mr. Rawson and Mr. McKay also obtained evidence from the complex’s former manager establishing that the complex had never before had any incidents related to the retaining wall.
Mr. Rawson and Mr. McKay moved for summary judgment on two primary grounds. The evidence affirmatively established The Mansions did not have knowledge of any alleged dangerous condition related to the walkway and retaining wall before the incident. Additionally, the walkway and retaining wall fully complied with applicable building codes and were not “dangerous conditions” under Texas law.
Plaintiff Sturdevant responded with the submission of an Affidavit from an expert in code compliance, who opined that the complex did not fully comply with applicable codes. Plaintiff also argued that the steps taken to secure the area, including the partial enclosure of the walkways with railings, showed Defendants’ knowledge of a dangerous condition. Mr. Rawson and Mr. McKay responded to Sturdevant’s evidence by urging the exclusion of Plaintiff’s expert because the expert failed to provide any support for his opinions—they were mere ipse dixit.
The trial judge agreed with Mr. Rawson and Mr. McKay’s arguments and granted a complete summary judgment, dismissing all claims with prejudice.