This week the Texas Supreme Court issued 8 decisions and 4 grants. Two of these opinions are of particular interest:
Roy Seger, et al. v. Yorkshire Insurance Co. Ltd., et al. – 13-0673:
In this case, the Texas Supreme Court addressed whether an insured’s assignees met the burden of establishing coverage in aStowers action against the insurer who refused to defend or settle the wrongful death claim of the parents of a man killed in an oil-derrick accident.
Following a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs at the trial of the underlying wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs (insured’s assignees) instituted a Stowers action against the insurer. The trial court reached a verdict against the insurer. The appellate court reversed the judgment on the basis that damages could not be established with the underlying wrongful death verdict because the judgment was not a result of a fully adversarial trial as the insured had not appeared at the trial.
The Texas Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s decision on other grounds. Specifically, the Texas Supreme Court held that the conclusive evidence established that (1) “leased-in” workers were excluded under the policy and (2) under the definition of “leased-in” workers, adopted by the appellate court in this case, the decedent was a “leased-in” worker at the time of his death; therefore, the assignees failed to establish an essential element of their Stowers action: coverage.
Ineos USA, LLC, et al. v. Johannes “Joe” Elmgren, et al. – 14-0507:
In this case, the Texas Supreme Court considered the scope of Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code by addressing (1) whether the statute applies to negligence claims other than premises liability and (2) whether the statute applies to claims against a property owner’s employee. The Court also dealt with the question of whether the evidence in this case created a sufficient question of fact so as to outweigh the statute’s protection and preclude summary judgment.
Mr. Elmgren suffered burns while replacing a valve on a gas line at a petrochemical plant for which his employer provided independent maintenance services. He brought suit against the property owner and an employee of the property owner. The trial court granted the defendants’ summary judgment motions finding that Chapter 95 protected both defendants from liability. Finding that Chapter 95 applies only to premises liability claims and that the plaintiff had brought separate claims for premises liability, negligent activity, and negligent undertaking, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in part and reversed in part.
On appeal, the Texas Supreme Court held:
(1) Chapter 95 applies to all negligence-based claims against property owners, including Respondeat Superior claims based on the negligence of the owner’s employees or agents;
(2) Chapter 95 does not protect the property owner’s employees or agents from negligence-based claims; and
(3) Plaintiffs did not create a fact issue sufficient to overcome the protection of Chapter 95 because:
- Valves and furnaces are part of a single processing system within a single plant and are therefore a single improvement under Chapter 95’s definition; and
- The mere presence of flammable of explosive gas at a petrochemical plant is not sufficient to trigger actual knowledge of a danger or condition for which the plant owner must adequately warn.