Does a limitation of liability provision include gross negligence claims? This basic question of contract drafting finds surprisingly little answer in Texas authority. A recent article by LTPC attorneys David Coale and Mallory Biblo summarizes the opinions and where the Dallas Court of Appeals falls.
After an automobile collision, the Gomez family sued Sol Ly for negligence. Ly was represented by the Herald law firm, which also employed attorney Tim Brandenburg. But while the suit was pending, Brandenburg left Herald to join the law firm of Domingo Garcia, which represented the plaintiffs. Based on the defendant’s oral objection, the trial court granted a mistrial and ordered the defendant to file a motion to disqualify, which was subsequently granted. The plaintiffs failed to obtain substitute counsel, and the case was dismissed for want of prosecution. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The plaintiffs’ pro se motion to reinstate the case following the dismissal challenged only the disqualification, and not the plaintiffs’ failure to appear at the new trial setting. Without a showing that the failure to appear was adequately justified, the Court of Appeals could not conclude that the trial court had abused its discretion in denying the motion to reinstate.
After a night of drinking in Uptown, Shawn Strumph was found by a jogger the next morning in a creekbed beneath a bridge owned by CC-Turtle Creek. Medical records contained several versions of how he ended up there, including assault, jumping, or simply falling. Shawn and his parents sued for dram shop and premises liability, but the trial court granted no-evidence summary judgment on the element of proximate cause. Because Shawn remembered nothing of how his injuries happened, and because there were no witnesses to the incident, the plaintiffs could not carry their burden under any theory of liability.
Stumph v. Dallas Lemmon West, Inc., No. 05-14-01044-CV
In this action for negligent appraisal, the Court of Appeals found that the two-year statute of limitations for negligence actions had not been tolled by the discovery rule because the homebuyer knew, before closing, of information indicating the value of the property was much less than what he had offered to pay for it. Specifically, the appraiser had indicated that the house was worth $295,000 (or $10,000 less than what the plaintiff had offered to pay for it). More importantly, Zillow.com showed that the property was $100,000 less than what the buyer had offered. Despite these two indications that should cause a reasonable person to investigate further, the plaintiff did not bring suit until three years later, when he had hired another appraiser to provide an estimate of the property’s value and found out that the property was, in fact, worth much less than he had paid.
In this negligent hiring case, the plaintiff bought a truck that she later discovered had been stolen. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial courts grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants because the economic loss rule barred recovery of economic damages based on a claim of negligent hiring. Instead, such a claim requires proof of physical injury from the negligent hiring, which the plaintiff could not establish.
In this car accident case, the defendant moved for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds. While the plaintiff claimed that a typo in the original petition precluded the process server from locating the defendant before the limitations period expired, the Court of Appeals found that the plaintiff had no explanation for the delay in serving the defendant because the defendant’s correct address, telephone number, driver’s license number, and license plane number were available in the police report describing the accident that is the basis for the lawsuit.
Several months before the decedent died, he had his attorney prepare an amendment to a trust he had created that would have increased the distributions to his two children. The attorney drafted the amendment, but the decedent never signed it. Acting in their capacity as personal representatives for their father’s estate, the children sued the attorney for negligence. The attorney moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted based on its finding that the attorney owed no duty to them.
The children appealed, and the Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that “an attorney owes a duty of care only to his or her client, not to third parties who may have been damaged by the attorney’s negligent representation of the client.”
Although medical malpractice usually isn’t this blog’s cup of tea, it is sometimes interesting to see just how broadly the courts will apply the expert report requirement for health care liability claims contained in Chapter 74 of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code. In this case, we learn that a case against a hospital will not be dismissed for failure to file an expert report when the claim is for a slip-and-fall injury. The Court of Appeals distinguished between claims that have an indirect relationship with health care (which require an expert report) and those that are “completely untethered” from health care. Slipping and falling on a wet floor in a hallway, the Court holds, has nothing to do with health care, and so the trial court correctly denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss.
Methodist Hosps. of Dallas v. Searcy, No. 05-14-00375-CV
An investor sought to have its shares in a hedge fund redeemed, but the hedge fund made a complex maneuver under Bermuda laws that resulted in the investor receiving less than it anticipated from the redemption. The investor sued the hedge fund, asserting numerous claims, including a negligence claim. The trial court granted summary judgment, and the investor appealed. Addressing the investor’s negligence claim, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the hedge fund manager did not owe a duty to the investor.
In what appears to be only the third opinion in the state reviewing a motion to dismiss under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 91a, the Dallas Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court’s order that granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss on the pleadings. Similar to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Rule 91a allows a party to move to dismiss a cause of action “on the grounds that it has no basis in law or fact,” based solely on the claimant’s pleadings. In this case, the plaintiffs sued the City of Dallas after emergency services failed to respond to a 911 call reporting their son’s drug overdose. The plaintiffs attempted to plead their way around governmental immunity by claiming the City had negligently used or misused the 911 system’s telephone and computer systems. The Court affirmed dismissal of negligence claims that the City had failed to properly respond to the 911 call, but also affirmed the denial of the motion as to claims that the equipment itself had failed or malfunctioned.
City of Dallas v. Sanchez, No. 05-13-01651-CV