January 8, 2016

Texas Supreme Court sides with PLF on premises liability law

By Wen Fa Attorney

In May, PLF attorneys filed a brief supporting Occidental Chemical — and sensible tort law — in the Texas Supreme Court. The company installed a pH-balancing system on its premises in 1992, so that its workers wouldn’t have to haul containers up a ladder. Occidental sold the property to Equistar six years later, and an Equistar employee was injured while using the pH-balancing system another eight years after the sale.

An appellate Court in Houston held Occidental responsible for the Equistar employee’s injury, even though Occidental had not owned, controlled, or possessed the premises for the past eight years. PLF argued that “the Supreme Court of Texas should reverse,” and today it did.

The opinion, which mentions PLF’s common law arguments as amicus, rejected the lower court’s novel “dual-role theory.” While Texas law plainly protects previous property owners from liability for subsequent injuries, the dual-role theory made the same owners liable as a “designer of the defective improvement.”

Today the Texas Supreme Court rejected this creative exception to settled premises liability law, and held that the same principles apply “regardless of how the injured party chooses to plead it.” PLF welcomes the Court’s decision as another step toward ensuring the right incentives. The law should encourage businesses to install smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and other improvements; it should not make businesses indefinitely liable for them.

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