Texas Personal Injury News

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Past Owner Sued for Premises Liability

Can a past owner be held liable for an update made to property while under its ownership?

In a recent complex litigation, Occidental Chemical Corporation v. Jason Jenkins, after differing opinions between the trial court and the appellate court, the Texas Supreme court decided for the defendant, concluding that " a claim against a previous owner for injury allegedly caused by a dangerous condition of real property remains a premises-liability claim, regardless of the previous property owner’s role in creating the condition.”

How It All Began

The story begins with a serious accident in 2006 when Jason Jenkins, the plaintiff, was working at Equistar Chemicals plant in Bayport, Texas, and was partially blinded when an acid-addition system machine sprayed acid into his face. Jenkins and his attorneys became aware that the company that previously owned the premises, Occidental Chemical Corporation, had been responsible for designing and constructing the acid-addition system while it still had ownership of the premises in 1992. Because it was this added-on system that caused Jenkins' devastating injury, he sued Occidental rather than Equistar.

The plaintiff sued Occidental for both premises liability because it had owned the property until 1998, and had installed the defective equipment, and for negligence since it was a third-party that designed the dangerous system. No lawsuit was filed against Equistar, even though they owned the premises at the time of the accident in 2006.

During the original trial, the jury found Occidental liable for the design and operating instruction of the acid-addition system, but concluded that the suit was prohibited by the statue of repose (something like the statute of limitations) relative to improvement to real property.

Thereafter, the appellate court reversed the decision of the trial court, finding that Jenkins had reasonable claims of both premises and negligence because Occidental had acted as both owner and designer. The appellate court further concluded that the negligence claim remained intact even after the sale of the property and that Occidental's could not legally support its statue of repose.

When the case finally went before the Texas Supreme Court, however, the Supreme Court found that there was no Texas case to support the appellate court's decision. The higher court ruled that premises liability only applies to the property owner who creates a dangerous condition on the property.  Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled against the Houston Court of Appeals and rendered a take-nothing judgment against the plaintiff. Their rationale was that Occidental had sold the property several years before the accident occurred and was therefore no longer responsible for a duty of care. Their ruling stated that Occidental had no way to maintain safety on property it no longer owned  and that such responsibility had passed on to Equistar at the time the sale of the property became final.

If you have suffered a personal injury in a Texas workplace and are seeking just compensation for your medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and possible ongoing disability, it's time for you to contact the finest personal injury attorneys in the greater Houston area. We have a proven track record of winning substantial compensations for their clients for over 40 years.

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