Justice Jeff Boyd

Justice Jeff Boyd

In an important case involving Chapter 95, TCPRC, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that while Chapter 95 precludes negligence lawsuits brought by independent contractors against a property owner arising from a condition or use of an improvement to real property, it does not block such suits against the property owner’s employee.

The case, Ineos USA, LLC., Ineos Polymers, Inc., Ineos Olefins & Polymers USA, LLC., and Pavlovsky v. Elmgren (No. 14-0507), involves an explosion at an Ineos petrochemical plant in which an employee of Ineos’s contractor, Zachry Industrial, was seriously injured. The employee, Elmgren, sued Ineos, the owner of the plant, and Pavlovsky, an employee of Ineos, alleging negligence. Both Ineos and Pavlovsky sought summary judgment on the ground that Chapter 95 protects them from liability since they had no actual knowledge of the danger or condition resulting in the injury. The trial court granted summary judgment. On appeal, the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston affirmed in part and reversed in part, including the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of Pavlovsky. Ineos and Pavlovsky sought review, and SCOTX granted it.

In a unanimous opinion by Justice Boyd, SCOTX ruled that:

  1. Chapter 95 applies both to premises liability claims and to non-premises negligence claims, such as negligent activity, negligent undertaking, or vicarious liability based on respondeat superior;
  2. Chapter 95 applies only to claims against the property owner, not the employees of the property owner, because the definition of property owner in §95.001(3) does not include the owner’s employees; and
  3. Chapter 95 does not extend liability protection to a property owner’s agent.

The Court further rejected Elmgren’s argument that the particular piece of equipment he had been working on at the time of the explosion was a different “improvement” than the pipe valve leak that actually caused the accident, and, consequently, that Chapter 95 did not apply. The Court read the definition of “improvement” broadly to apply to the entire system of which the equipment was a part.

The Court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings on Elmgren’s claim against Pavlovsky.

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