By Judith Meyer
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Chapter 95, a statute that protects property owners from personal injury suits by employees of contractors and subcontractors, applies to claims against property owners for the negligent hiring of the contractor or subcontractor.
In certain circumstances, Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code protects property owners from liability for personal injury to the employee of a contractor or subcontractor who constructs, repairs, renovates, or modifies an improvement to real property when the claims arise from the condition or use of that improvement. Tex Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 95.002 – .003.
In Cuevas v. Endeavor Energy Res., L.P., 531 S.W.3d 375, 378 (Tex.App.–Eastland 2017, pet. granted), an employee of an independent contractor who was hired by the property owner to drill a well was killed while preparing the rig for drilling operations. The employee’s family sued the property owner, asserting various claims, including the owner’s negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention of the contractor. Id. The trial court granted the owner’s motion for summary judgment under Chapter 95 on all of the plaintiffs’ claims. Id. The appellate court reversed on the claim of negligent hiring, holding that Chapter 95 applies to contemporaneous negligent acts of the property owner, which it defined as acts that occur on the premises at the time the claimant is injured. Id. at 382. The appellate court held that negligent supervision and retention were such contemporaneous acts, but negligent hiring presented a claim for acts that occurred prior to injury, and thus were not covered by Chapter 95. Id.
In Endeavor v. Cuevas, ___ S.W.3d ___, 2019 WL 1966625, *3 (Tex. May 3, 2019), the Texas Supreme Court explained that a claim for negligent hiring arises from, and is caused by, a combination of two separate negligent acts, the negligent hiring and the negligence that causes the injury. The “plain language” of Chapter 95
requires only that the claim arise from the use of an improvement to the property, not that the property owner’s negligence involve the use of the improvement, or that the use of the improvement be the only cause of the injury. When one of the negligent acts involves the contemporaneous use of an improvement to real property, the claim arises from that act, regardless of when the other negligent act occurred or whether it involved the use of an improvement.
Id. (emphasis in the original). Since the plaintiff’s claim of negligent hiring depended, in part, on proof that the contemporaneous use an improvement caused his injury, the claim arose from the use of an improvement, and Chapter 95 applied. Summary judgment for the property owner was rendered.
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