Texas Supreme Court Eliminates $9.6 Million Judgment for Injured Worker Based on the Absence of a Duty

In a highly watched case regarding the duties owed by former property owners, Deborah Hankinson, Brett Kutnick, Rick Thompson, and Jennifer Stagen successfully represented Occidental Chemical Corporation and persuaded the Texas Supreme Court to reverse a $9.6 million negligence judgment awarded to a worker who was partially blinded by acid at a chemical plant years after Occidental’s sale of the plant. Specifically, the Supreme Court addressed whether a property owner who allegedly creates a dangerous condition owes a duty in premises liability to warn of the dangerous condition or to make it safe and a duty in negligence to use reasonable care not to create the dangerous condition in the first place. In answering that question in the negative, the Court rejected the notion that a property owner acts as both owner and independent contractor when improving its own property, subjecting itself to either premises-liability or ordinary-negligence principles depending on the injured party’s pleadings. Instead, the Court held that premises-liability principles apply to a property owner who creates a dangerous condition on its property, and that the claim of a person injured by the condition remains a premises-liability claim as to the owner-creator, regardless of how the injured party chooses to plead it. Because Occidental sold the property eight years before the plaintiff’s accident, the Supreme Court held that Occidental owed no duty of care as that duty had passed to its vendee. The Court therefore reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and rendered judgment that the plaintiff take nothing. See Occidental Chemical Corp. v. Jenkins, No. 13-0961, 2016 WL 82662 (Tex. Jan. 8, 2016).