05.13.19

The Texas Supreme Court has been very busy and, in the last three weeks alone, has issued 15 opinions and no grants. This blog briefly discusses two of these recent opinions which provide guidance on (1) the availability of sanctions under Rule 215.4 and (2) whether Chapter 95 applies to a negligent hiring claim against a property owner brought by the employee of a contractor.

On April 26, 2019, in Medina v. Zuniga, the Court addressed whether the failure to admit negligence during discovery can be a basis for sanction if the party concedes ordinary negligence at trial.

This case arose from a car-pedestrian accident, and the pedestrian, Zuniga, brought suit against the driver for negligence and gross negligence and against the owners of the vehicle for negligent entrustment. Throughout discovery, the Defendants continued to deny requests for admission aimed at determining whether Medina's negligence was disputed. However, during his opening statement, Medina's attorney revealed for the first time that Medina's negligence was not contested. After trial, Zuniga moved for an award of reasonable expenses and fees incurred in proving up Medina's negligence. The trial court granted Zuniga's Motion and the court of appeals affirmed.

Emphasizing that "merits-preclusive requests for admissions that carry the threat of sanctions risk putting the responding party to an impossible choice: give up your case nor or face sanctions later," the Court reversed and rendered judgment that Zuniga take nothing on her motion for sanctions.

On May 3, 2019, in Endeavor Energy Resources, L.P. v. Evelyn Cuevas, et al., the Court evaluated whether Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code applies in the context of a contractor's employee's negligent hiring claim against a property owner.

In this case, an employee of a drilling company, which was hired by a property owner to drill a well on the property, was injured when a rope caught on a pulley jerking a pipe upwards to strike the employee in the head. Ultimately, the employee died as a result of his injuries, and his survivors brought suit against the property owner. The property owner moved for summary judgment on the basis that Chapter 95 barred the claims - ordinary negligence, premises liability, and negligent hiring, retention, and supervision.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the property owner. The court of appeals reversed as to the negligent hiring claim and affirmed as to the remaining claims.

Concluding that the negligent hiring claim in this case arose from the condition or use of an improvement to real property, the Court found that Chapter 95 applied, reversed the court of appeals' judgment in part, and rendered judgment dismissing the negligent hiring claim.