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Designation of a Responsible Third Party in Texas Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In re CVR Energy, Inc. is a 2016 Texas wrongful death case in which the defendants tried to designate a former codefendant as a responsible third party. Two men, Billy Smith and Russell Mann, were killed in a refinery explosion while they were trying to restart the pilot light in an old boiler. They were employed by Wynnewood, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CVR refinery. The boiler was not equipped with a system that would allow it to be restarted from a remote site. Wynnewood had rejected proposals for a system of this sort, and according to the plaintiffs it had actual knowledge that the boiler had previously detonated and injured workers.

The family of the deceased sued Wynnewood and CVR. Among other things, they alleged that CVR as Wynnewood’s parent company had been negligent and grossly negligent by failing to install a boiler management system and failing to install controls on all heating equipment, among other things. They served requests for disclosure on CVR while Wynnewood was still in the lawsuit, asking CVR to name any responsible third parties. Under Rule 194, a party can obtain disclosure of identifying information for anyone that could be designated a responsible third party. However, CVR did not list its codefendant as a responsible third party in its response.

The plaintiffs had nonsuited (dismissed) Wynnewood Refining Company less than 60 days before trial, after the statute of limitations had run. The remaining defendants filed a motion to designate Wynnewood as a responsible third party, but the court denied this motion.

Defendant CVR asked an appellate court to compel the trial court to vacate its order and grant the motion for leave to make the designation. It argued that the evidence that showed Wynnewood bore responsibility for the accident was inseparable from the plaintiff’s allegations against it.

The appellate court explained that under TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 33.001-33.017, a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit can designate as a responsible third party anyone that is alleged to have caused the harm suffered by the plaintiff. There are certain statutory limitations. The first is that a defendant can’t designate a responsible third party within 60 days of trial unless the court finds good cause. Additionally, a defendant can be stopped from designating a responsible third party if it owed an obligation to disclose the party previously but didn’t, and the statute of limitations has run on the plaintiff’s claim against that party.

The plaintiffs argued that because of those limitations, the trial court had correctly denied the motion to designate. The appellate court considered whether CVR failed to comply with its obligation to disclose Wynnewood as a responsible third party in its discovery responses. CVR argued that Wynnewood was a named party defendant, so it owed no responsibility to designate it as a responsible third party.

The court explained that a defendant’s discovery responses are shaped by the plaintiff’s complaint, and at the time CVR responded to discovery, Wynnewood was being sued already by the plaintiffs. A responsible third party is anyone alleged to have caused or contributed to the harm for which recovery is sought. The common understanding is that it is someone not named as a party to a lawsuit. In this case, Wynnewood was named as a party. Accordingly, the appellate court directed the lower court to grant CVR’s motion to designate Wynnewood as a responsible third party.

If a loved one dies as a result of someone else’s negligence, the San Antonio wrongful death attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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