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Designating Responsible Third Parties

The Civil Practice and Remedies Code permits the designation of responsible third parties, who are alleged to have caused or contributed to causing the harm for which recovery of damages is sought, whether by negligent act or omission by other conduct or activity that violates an applicable legal standard, or by any combination of these. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 33.011(6). 

Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 33.004 controls the designation of responsible third parties. It provides that a defendant may not designate a responsible third party after the applicable time limit if the defendant has failed to comply with its obligation to timely disclose that the party may be a responsible third party under the rule. In In Re Melissa Dawson, the Supreme Court of Texas specified the requirements for a defendant to fully and timely disclose a responsible third party.

A defendant's motion to designate a responsible third party must be filed on or before the 60th day before the trial date, unless the court finds good cause to allow the motion to be filed at a later date. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 33.004(a). When the applicable time period has expired on a plaintiff's causes of action with respect to the third party, a defendant may not designate a responsible party if it has failed to comply with its obligations to disclose the responsible third party. But, when does a defendant meet its obligation to comply with timely designation of a responsible third party?

In re Mellissa Dawson, Melissa Dawson sought a writ of mandamus following the defendant's attempt to designate a responsible third party. In the case, Ms. Dawson was injured at a restaurant when a television fell and struck her. She subsequently filed a lawsuit against the establishment and the operator, Two for Freedom, LLC. Dawson served the original petition with disclosures, interrogatories, and requests for production to Two for Freedom.

In Two for Freedom's initial discovery responses, it did not identify any other potential parties to the lawsuit, but it did state that it will supplement as to any potential responsible third parties. Dawson had sought to discover the name of the person who had installed the faulty television that had caused her injury. Two for Freedom had identified Michael Graciano as the person who had installed the television. Two for Freedom then amended its disclosure responses to designate Graciano as a potential responsible third party; however, it did so two weeks after the discovery deadline had expired. Two for Freedom's interrogatory answer identifying Graciano was the only mention of him before the statute of limitations ran on Dawson's claim. Regardless, the trial court granted leave to Two for Freedom and denied Dawson's request for mandamus relief.

The Supreme Court held that Two for Freedom's initial disclosure responses did not satisfy the obligation to give Dawson notice of whom it intended to designate as a responsible third party. The rules require that the defendant disclose who the designated responsible third party is. Specifically, a defendant is required to disclose the name, address, and telephone number of any person who may be designated as a responsible third party. TEX. R. CIV. P. 194.2(l). Here, Two for Freedom did not meet its obligation simply by mentioning Graciano's name as the person who it purported had caused the injuries and stating that it "will supplement" the disclosure response. A full disclosure of Graciano was needed - including name, address, and telephone number. The trial court erroneously granted Two for Freedom leave to designate, and therefore Dawson's writ of mandamus was granted.

Designating responsible third parties is not a difficult task; however, given the Supreme Court of Texas' interpretation, the rules of designating responsible parties are strict. The designation must (1) be timely and (2) list all the required party's information. A defendant's motion to designate responsible third parties must be filed on or before the 60th day before the trial date and must disclose a parties' names, address, and telephone number. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 33.004(a); 194.2(l). Simply identifying a party by name will not suffice. If (as in In re Mellissa Dawson) a designation is done past the deadline or a party's name is listed with a "will supplement" line, the obligation to properly and fully designate has not been met. 

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