No cheddar for trucker who claims rat caused him to panic and fall while brushing teeth

By David Yates | May 14, 2019

HOUSTON – An appellate court has affirmed summary judgment in favor of company that was sued by a trucker who claims a rat caused him to panic and fall while brushing his teeth.

Alleging negligence, Ernest Gonzales filed a slip and fall suit against Thorndale Cooperative Gin and Grain Company.

Gonzales, a commercial trucker, began hauling for Thorndale in 2013 and frequently spent the night on the property, using Thorndale’s bathroom facilities.

In 2014, Gonzales planned to haul wheat from Thorndale to the Port of Houston. While brushing his teeth at one of the bathroom sinks, he felt something on his upper back. When he saw a rat tail on his shoulder, Gonzales panicked and lost his footing, striking the back of his head on the sink and suffering an eye injury.

Court records show Thorndale successfully moved for summary judgment, although the trial court did not include any specific reason for granting the motion.

On appeal, Gonzales argued the trial court erred, contending that Thorndale “mischaracterized” the subject danger too generally as rats in the bathroom and that he did not have full knowledge of the specific “danger of rats falling on him from the ceiling above.”

On May 9, the 14th Court of Appeals found Gonzales had not raised an issue or argument challenging the independent, alternative ferae naturae (wild by nature) basis for the trial court’s decision.

Animal ferae naturae are not subject of absolute ownership.

“The trial court issued a general order in granting Thorndale’s motion for summary judgment,” the court’s opinion states. “If Gonzales wanted the order to specify the trial court’s grounds for determining summary judgment, then he was free to file a timely motion for reconsideration requesting the trial court expressly state in its judgment that the sole basis for its ruling was that the hazards were open, obvious, and known.

“He did not do so, and the trial court did not so limit its judgment.”

Gonzales is represented by Benny Agosto Jr. and Jonathan Sneed, attorneys for the Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz law firm in Houston.

Thorndale is represented by John Robinson and Christopher Sisk, attorneys for Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy in Dallas.

Appeals case No. 14-18-00267-CV

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