Under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 33.001-33.017, a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit in Texas can designate anyone who is alleged to have caused or contributed to injuries as a responsible third party.
In Re Bustamante considered whether a trial court had appropriately denied a motion for leave to designate responsible third parties. The case arose when a man in the course and scope of his employment was hurt at his workplace, the Cleo Convenience Center, when Irasma Estrada Riojas drove a vehicle into him, pinning him to a wall.
A day before the statute of limitations period ended, the man and his wife sued several defendants, including Cleo Bustamante, who owned the company that employed him. They did not sue Riojas or the employer. The employer had provided workers’ compensation, while Riojas had settled.
Bustamante filed a motion under section 33.004 for leave to designate the employer and the driver as responsible third parties. The plaintiffs objected, arguing that since the motion was filed after the close of the statute of limitations period, and they hadn’t been disclosed as third parties in response to discovery, the motion should be denied. The trial court denied the motion for leave.
The appellate court considered whether the denial was an abuse of discretion, reviewing whether the motion for leave to designate was timely filed. It explained such a motion needs to be filed on or before the 60th day before trial unless there’s good cause for the motion to be filed later. The motion in question was filed before the 60th day before the trial date. However, a defendant isn’t allowed to designate someone as a responsible third party once the statute of limitations is closed if the defendant didn’t “timely” disclose this information in discovery. The purpose of this rule is to keep defendants from pointing at someone against whom the plaintiff cannot recover damages.
The plaintiffs argued that “timely” referred to the time to respond to discovery, while Bustamante argued it referred to making a disclosure before the statute of limitations expired when possible. In this case, the plaintiffs had included their requests for disclosure with their initial complaint. Bustamante was supposed to respond within 50 days of service but didn’t. However, he had responded to requests for disclosure sent by a co-defendant. In those responses, he had listed Riojas as a possible third party who was responsible, and he’d testified about the plaintiff’s employer as a possible third party at deposition.
The appellate court explained that the rules allow someone who doesn’t respond to discovery to introduce undisclosed information if there is good cause for the failure to respond or if the other party isn’t going to be unfairly prejudiced or surprised by the failure. In this case, Bustamante couldn’t comply because the statute of limitations ran a day after the lawsuit was filed.
The plaintiffs knew that both the employer and Riojas were potentially responsible third parties. Accordingly, the court found Bustamante had complied with the requirements of designating a third party. It also noted that the court shall grant a motion for leave to designate a responsible third party unless a defendant doesn’t plead enough facts to justify it, and it held the trial court had abused its discretion in denying the motion.
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