Supreme Court Rules Against Deceased Worker’s Family

In the case of In re Union Carbide Corporation, an opinion released on January 9, 2009, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against the survivors of a worker who died from industrial toxic exposure.

Initially, a fellow worker named Kenneth Moffett brought suit for personal injuries because he contracted myelogenous leukemia from toxic exposure at Union Carbide’s Texas City plant. Later, the family of John Hall intervened in that lawsuit because John Hall had worked at the same plant and had contracted myelodysplastic syndrome from toxic chemicals.

Union Carbide objected to the intervention by John Hall’s family, so the trial judge severed that claim and treated it as a separate lawsuit. Union Carbide appealed anyway, and the Texas Supreme Court – which is said to be far behind in its case load – accepted the case.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which permit interventions in some situations, does not permit one here. Further, even if the law suits of Moffett and the Halls might be properly handled together under rules related to joining cases (called “joinder”), the Supreme Court ruled that the rules related to joinder should not be considered. So, the Supreme Court ruled the trial judge was wrong to sever the case. Instead, according to the Supreme Court, the trial court should have dismissed the case. Under that ruling, the family of John Hall would have to start all over with the lawsuit, even though their claim was severed at the very beginning and put in its own suit.