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Texas Supreme Court: Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Does Not Protect Property-Owner Agents

In the latest of the Texas Supreme Court's recent string of decisions interpreting Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code, the justices found that employees and agents of property owners do not enjoy Chapter 95's protections.

Ineos USA, LLC v. Elmgren involved claims against a petrochemical plant property owner brought by a contractor's employee injured while replacing a valve on a furnace heater. As is common, the plaintiff also sued an individual who supervised the work being performed at the time of the plaintiff's injury. The court found that based upon the plain language of the statute, Chapter 95 does not provide protection to employees and agents of property owners. However, the court also held that property owners remain immune from vicarious liability. Thus, even if the plaintiff proves that the supervisor was negligent, the property owner cannot be held liable for that negligence unless the actual knowledge and control requirements of Chapter 95 are met.

At first glance, this appears to deliver a serious blow to an injured worker's rights to recovery when a property owner's employee, who is acting as the property owner's agent, causes the injury. However, the court clarified that the term "property owner" only includes a person or entity that owns real property primarily used for commercial or business purposes. The court's decision makes it clear: a property owner's agents, even those responsible for managing the property on the owner's behalf, are not protected as property owners under Chapter 95. As a result, Plaintiffs will, in some circumstances, find that they have improved opportunities for recovery against property-owner agents. For example, unlike the supervisor in Elmgren, many property owner agents are not likely to be judgment proof. Plaintiffs injured in such circumstances will find their common-law negligence claims against those defendants reinvigorated after Elmgren.

If you or a loved one was injured on a worksite while employed as an independent or subcontractor, you may be able to seek recovery from the worksite's property owner. Contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-396-3964 or toll free at 1-800-594-4884.

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