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Texas Court Finds Refinery May Be Liable After Injury Occurred During Contractor’s Repairs

  1. Property owners can try to evade liability in some personal injury cases by claiming that a contractor was at fault for an accident. However, even when a contractor is used, property owners may still be on the hook. In a recent case before a Texas appeals court, the court explained why a refinery could still be held liable after a contractor’s employee was injured while the contractor was completing repairs.

The plaintiff, a supervisor, worked at a company that was providing maintenance and repairs at a refining facility in Texas. He was injured at work one day when hot liquid sprayed out of a pipe, causing him to suffer severe burns. A solution of raw bauxite dirt and sodium hydroxide called “process liquor” was being pumped through the pipes. Because the process liquor caused residue to build up in the pipes over time, the pipes had to be cleaned from time to time. Some employees were using a jackhammer to remove a deposit that had formed in a pipe when hot liquor sprayed out of the pipe and onto the employee.

The plainitff had to be airlifted to the hospital due to the severity of the burns. He alleged that the refinery was negligent in failing to ensure that the liquor was emptied from the pipe before allowing work to begin. The employer argued that the refinery was not liable for his injury under Chapter 95 of Texas’s Civil Practice and Remedies Code, because the work was being done by a contractor.

Liability of Contractors and Subcontractors

Statute 95.003 of Texas’s civil practice and remedies code indicates that a property owner is not legally responsible for injuries, death, or damages to property of a contractor, subcontractor or an employee thereof associated with construction projects as a result of failure to provide a safe workplace. The only exceptions come into play if or when (1) the property owner retains some control over the way the work is performed, beyond the simple determination of when works starts or stops, and the review of progress reports, and (2) the property owner was aware of the dangerous nature of the condition that could result in injuries, death, or property damage and failed to warn the third parties working on the construction project.

The Court’s Decision

The refinery argued that it did not control the contractor’s work and that it did not know there was hot liquor in the pipe at the time the employee was injured. The contract between the employee’s company and the refinery stated that the company was an independent contractor and that the refinery “disclaim[ed]” the right to control the contractor’s performance and would “not control the manner” of the contractor’s performance. The supervisor also signed a form acknowledging that he visually inspected the pipe to ensure it was empty.

The court determined that Chapter 95 did apply in this case, but that the refinery might still be liable for the injury. In this case, there was evidence that the refinery had control over the manner in which the work was being performed. The contractor had to follow the refinery’s detailed instructions about how to change the pipes and the refinery also controlled flushing and draining the pipes. It also determined that the refinery may have known about the presence of the hot liquor in the pipe because there were positive readings indicating its presence on the day of the injury. Therefore, the court found the refinery could be held liable for the injury despite its use of a contractor.

Have You Been Injured in Texas?

If you or loved one has been injured, and you believe another person or entity may be at fault, contact an experienced Texas personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Carabin Shaw was founded 25 years ago to fight for the rights of accident victims. We have over 200 years of combined experience in San Antonio personal injury law, and we are ready to help our clients find solutions to the challenges that arise after a serious accident. We are vigilant in protecting the rights and interests of our clients in San Antonio and across Texas. Call us at 1-800-862-1260 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.

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