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Liability Exception Under Chapter 95 in Texas

electric-caos-1277648-mUnder Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, property owners will not be liable when a contractor or a subcontractor or its employee is hurt on a property owner’s property while performing repairs or construction. A property owner under the chapter is someone who owns real property that is primarily used for commercial or business purposes. The exception is when a property owner exercises or keeps control over the manner in which the work was performed, and the property owner had actual knowledge of the danger or condition resulting in the injury. At trial, a property owner will have to show that chapter 95 applies to the case.

In Rosa v. Mestena Operating LLC, a man and his wife sued a property owner for negligence and premises liability after the man suffered an on-the-job injury. The accident happened when the man was hurt at work while performing maintenance on electrical poles for his employer, a maintenance company. A utility company had an easement on the property and contracted with a maintenance company to perform maintenance on the poles.

The defendant, Mestena Operating LLC, was an operator of oil and gas wells that had a mineral lease on the property where the electrical poles were located. There was no contractual relationship between Mestena and the man’s employer. The plaintiffs claimed that the man had contacted an energized ground wire and suffered electric shock on the job. The ground wire was linked to equipment on the mineral lease. The plaintiffs theorized that the Mestena equipment, which was about 1,400 feet from the place where the plaintiff was located, had malfunctioned, causing the ground wire to be energized. The plaintiffs argued that Mestena knew or should have known about the danger of the ground wire.

Mestena moved for summary judgment, arguing it was a property owner under chapter 95, which meant it was not liable. There was an exception to chapter 95, but Mestena argued it didn’t apply because there wasn’t evidence that Mestena had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition. The plaintiffs argued that chapter 95 didn’t apply to Mestena because it hadn’t contracted with anybody in the case to repair, renovate, or modify the real property improvement. They also argued there was a genuine issue of fact about whether Mestena had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition, among other things.

The trial court granted summary judgment, finding chapter 95 applied. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that it only applied where there was a contractual relationship between the property owner and the contractor for improvements. In this case, the contract was between the utility company and the maintenance company, not Mestena.

The court concluded that the plain language of chapter 95 showed it wasn’t limited to just those situations where there was a contract between a property owner and contractor. It found the trial court correctly ruled that Mestena had met its burden to show that chapter 95 applied and that then the burden shifted to the plaintiffs to raise a material issue of fact about whether Mestena kept control over how the work was performed or had actual knowledge of the danger resulting in injury and failed to warn. In this case, there was no evidence that the defendant kept control over how the plaintiff did his work on the utility pole. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

If you get hurt at work on somebody else’s property, it’s important to retain attorneys with experience in these challenging cases. The experienced San Antonio¬†work injury¬†attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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