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Fatal Injuries While Working on a Drilling Rig in Texas

In a recent Texas work injury case, the court considered a case in which a man was fatally injured while working on a drilling rig that was drilling a well on a lease owned by a company. The survivors of the man sued the company as well as his employer, claiming negligence and premises liability.

The company was the owner or operator of oil and gas leases and had contracted with the man’s employer, a drilling company, to drill a well on its mineral lease. The decedent and other rig hands were rigging up the rig to prepare for drilling. The decedent was working in the cellar, a substructure area of the rig, trying to repair a pipe that worked to vacuum fluid from the cellar.

He and other rig hands used a catline to lift the cellar jet line to make the repairs. While using the catline, it got caught in the cathead, causing the cellar jet line to rise suddenly and hit him in the head. This caused his death.

The decedents’ survivors alleged that the company owned and operated the job site. The premises were unreasonably dangerous and unsafe and caused the decedent’s injuries. They filed against the company, based on a theory of premises liability. They alleged the company had allowed the dangerous condition to exist and failed to warn the decedent about it.

The company filed for summary judgment. The plaintiff later alleged that the company had negligently hired, retained, and supervised the decedent’s employer with regard to drilling the well. The motion for summary judgment was granted. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the trial court had made a mistake in granting summary judgment on the premises liability, negligent hiring, negligent retention, and negligent supervision claims.

The appellate court explained that Chapter 95 applied to the premises liability claim. Section 95.003 provided that a property owner wasn’t liable for an injury or death to an employee of a contractor that built or modified an improvement to real property, including an injury based on a failure to provide a safe workplace, unless the property owner kept some control over how the work was performed, and it had actual knowledge of the danger or condition resulting in the injury or death but didn’t provide adequate warnings.

If Chapter 95 applies to a claim, it’s the plaintiff’s only way to recover, and it applies more stringent evidentiary requirements in order to recover damages. It also gives a property owner more protection by requiring the plaintiff to show a property owner had actual knowledge, rather than just constructive knowledge.

The appellate court explained that actual knowledge requires information that a dangerous condition existed when the accident happened, in contrast to constructive knowledge, which can be shown through facts or inferences that a hazard could develop over time.

The appellate court explained that general knowledge that a situation was potentially dangerous didn’t equal actual knowledge. The first issue on appeal was overruled.

The court explained that a property owner doesn’t owe a duty to make sure independent contractors do their work in a safe way, although there are exceptions. There is an exception for negligent hiring, whereby a general contractor owes a duty to third parties to use reasonable care when retaining independent contractors that aren’t incompetent or unfit. However, this duty isn’t owed by the general contractor to the employees of the independent contractor. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

If a loved one is killed in a workplace accident, the experienced San Antonio 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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