16 Mar Texas Supreme Court Squashes Spider Liability
Matthew M. BuschiCounsel
Somewhat fitting, on Friday the 13th, the Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in No. 18-1065; Homer Hillis v. Henry McCall, concerning whether a bed & breakfast owner in the Hill Country owed a duty to a guest to warn him of brown recluse spiders on the property when the owner knew that brown recluse spiders were indigenous to Texas and that spiders were, in general, on the property, but was not aware of brown recluse spiders in particular on the property. The guest was bitten by a brown recluse on owner’s property when he was trying to repair a sink. The Court found that the owner conclusively negated any duty to warn a guest of the presence of brown recluse spiders in this instance.
The Court reasoned that “[u]nder ordinary circumstances, Texas landowners do not have a duty to warn their guests about the presence and behavior patterns of every species of indigenous wild animals and plants which pose a potential threat to a person’s safety…”
However, the ferae naturae doctrine creates an exception to the general no-duty rule whereby a landowner “could be negligent with regard to wild animals found in artificial structures or places where they are not normally found; that is, stores, hotels, apartment houses, or billboards, if the landowner knows or should know of the unreasonable risk of harm posed by an animal on its premises, and cannot expect patrons to realize the danger or guard against it.” Thus, while there is generally no duty to warn of wild animals outside on the property, there may be a duty to warn of wild animals who have infiltrated certain places and the owner knows it and should know it may cause an unreasonable risk of harm.
In this case, the guest argued that since the owner was aware of the existence of spiders on the property in general (though one has to wonder if there are any properties without spiders in general on them), and because the owner had read on the internet that brown recluses were native to Texas and therefore could potentially be on his property, the owner therefore had a duty to warn him concerning brown recluses. The Court did not agree and found that “knowledge of the general intermittent presence of spiders does not necessarily amount to knowledge of an unreasonable risk of harm, and [the owner] had no particular reason to know that brown recluses, or other venomous spiders, were inside the B&B.” Further, the Court found that both the guest and the owner had identical knowledge of the general presence of spiders and the owner had no duty to warn the guest that some might be venomous because it is common knowledge that some spiders are venomous. There is no duty to warn an invitee of something he already knows.
In this case, the owner having no particular knowledge that brown recluse spiders were present inside structures on the property, had no duty to warn the guest of Brown Recluse spiders, or warn him that some spiders may be venomous because, well, everyone knows that.
While it is disturbing that the fact that Texas spiders are everywhere and some are venomous is so universal that this fact can be found as a matter of law, landowners can at least rest assured that absent some pretty unique circumstances they will not be found liable when the creepy crawlies injure their invitees.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matthew M. Buschi is Counsel at Rapp & Krock, PC in the Litigation group.
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