Rats are disgusting animals. If you come upon one unexpectedly, it’s likely to startle or even frighten you. If, on the other hand, you’re walking around a junkyard or a dump, there’s a good chance you’ll come upon a rat at some point or other and you shouldn’t be surprised about it.
A grain elevator is another place you’re likely to encounter rats every now and then. There’s lots of food there for them, and lots of places to hide.
The owners of grain elevators do what they can to keep the rat population down, but despite their best efforts they can’t eliminate the pests entirely.
Commercial trucker Ernest Gonzalez began hauling for the Thorndale Cooperative Gin and Grain Company in 2013 and frequently spent the night on the property, using Thorndale’s bathroom facilities. Like anyone familiar with grain elevators, Gonzalez knew he was likely to encounter a rat every now and then.
Still, it had to be a shock when a rat dropped from the ceiling onto his shoulder while he was brushing his teeth at the sink one morning in 2014 as he was getting ready to haul a truckload of wheat to the port in Houston. Spooked by the rodent, Gonzales slipped and struck his head on the sink, suffering an injury to one of his eyes.
Gonzalez subsequently filed suit against Thorndale, accusing the company of negligence. When Thorndale successfully moved for summary judgment, Gonzalez appealed, arguing that the company had not specifically warned of the “danger of rats falling on him from the ceiling above.”
Two weeks ago, the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment, concluding that Gonzales had not disputed the ferae naturae (wild by nature) basis of the trial court’s decision and that the hazards presented by these wild animals were “open, obvious, and known.”
Rats in a grain elevator are no surprise.