In a per curiam opinion without oral argument, the Texas Supreme Court has reversed a decision of the Houston [14th] Court of Appeals in a case involving the scope of the duty of a Good Samaritan who renders assistance to another without compensation.

Three Aces Towing, Inc. d/b/a Three Aces Storage v. Cassie Landrum, Individually, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Jeffrey Landrum (No. 21-0652) arose from a tragic incident in which Jeffrey Landrum was crushed to death while unloading a storage unit from a tractor-trailer at a Three Aces public mini-storage facility. Landrum, who worked for a Three Aces contractor, delivered two storage units to the facility but had no one to help him unload them. He successfully unloaded one of them, but the other became stuck on the rollers mounted on the trailer bed. Landrum asked one of the owners of the facility to assist him in pushing the unit to the end of the trailer bed so that he could pull it down the ramp that extended to the ground. The owner helped him push the unit to the end of the bed and then stepped off the truck to a distance of twelve feet. While the owner was tending to her grandchildren, the unit fell, crushing and killing Landrum. Landrum’s daughter sued Three Aces on wrongful death and survival claims. The trial court granted Three Aces’ motion for summary judgment, but the court of appeals reversed. Over a strong dissent, the court found that the owner “inserted herself into the unloading procedure” and “undertook a duty to protect Landrum from dangers that an ordinarily prudent person could foresee were a likely result of the situation.”

SCOTX reversed and rendered judgment for Three Aces. “The undisputed facts are that Landrum asked Dawn only to help him push the storage unit one foot to the end of the trailer,” the court opined. “That is all she did, and she did it safely. She stopped when Landrum told her to. Any duty she undertook to exercise reasonable care ceased by the time Landrum began to unload the unit by himself” (citations omitted). It is important to note that the Court did not say that the owner “undertook a duty of care by assisting Landrum when and how he asked.” The question of when a Good Samaritan’s conduct crosses the “duty” threshold is dependent on the facts. Those facts, however, did not give rise to the question in this case.

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