Petition For Review Denied in Hilz v. Riedel

Today, the Supreme Court of Texas denied review in Hilz v. Riedel, a Fort Worth Court of Appeals decision reversing a summary judgment granted pursuant to Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. 

As such, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals' opinion will stand and the case will proceed to trial on remand to the trial court.

A detailed discussion of the Fort Worth Court of Appeals' opinion is contained in this prior post.

Supreme Court of Texas Denies Petition for Review in Young v. McKim

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Texas denied Brenda Young’s petition for review. The 14th Court of Appeals’ holding that Chapter 87 can immunize defendants against suits brought by independent contractors will stand. 

The Court’s notice regarding the denial of the petition for review can be downloaded here.

The Supreme Court did not give a reason for denying the petition. One reason could have been that the Court found no reversible error in the 14th Court’s opinion. As such, the denial may be yet another indication that the Supreme Court agrees with me and other practitioners who believe Chapter 87 applies to suits brought by workers (both independent contractors and employees), subject to its exceptions.

As far as I know, no court of last resort in any state has ever taken up the issue of whether an equine or farm animal immunity statute applies to suits brought by workers.

Related Posts:

Young v. McKim Appealed to Supreme Court of Texas

Texas Supreme Court May Be Inclined to Grant Chapter 87 Immunity to Employers

Another Appellate Court Holds Chapter 87 Immunity Act Applies to Suits Brought by Independent Contractors

Young v. McKim Appealed to Supreme Court of Texas

Yesterday, counsel for Brenda Young filed a petition for review of the 14th Court of Appeals’ decision discussed in this prior post.  This will be the first time the high court has ever been given the opportunity to decide whether or not Chapter 87 immunity applies to claims brought by workers.

A copy of Young’s petition can be downloaded here.

In her petition, Young contends that the 14th Court of Appeals committed error in holding that:

1.  non-consumers of equine activities (i.e. people who are paid to work around horses) qualify as participants under Chapter 87; and

2.  the posting of warning signs under Chapter 87 was a defense and not an element of proof (i.e. Young asserts that the McKims had the burden of proving that they had posted the Chapter 87 warning signs in order to be afforded immunity under Chapter 87, and that they did not meet that burden).

While I agree with the 14th Court of Appeals’ decision and do not wish to see it reversed, I am pleased that the Supreme Court now has an opportunity to review whether or not Chapter 87 applies to claims brought by employees or other workers.  This issue is currently somewhat “murky” under Texas law.  Clarification is needed because there seems to be a conflict of authority on this issue among the intermediate courts of appeals.  In that respect, I am pleased that Young requested review of the first issue discussed above.

Related posts:

Update on Young v. McKim

Another Appellate Court Holds Chapter 87 Immunity Act Applies to Suits Brought by Independent Contractors

Texas Supreme Court May Be Inclined to Grant Chapter 87 Immunity to Employers

Texas Supreme Court May be Inclined to Grant Chapter 87 Immunity to Employers

If the Texas Workers' Compensation Act and the Texas Farm Animal Limitation of Liability Act got into a fight, who would win?  The Supreme Court of Texas might have just metaphorically placed its money on the farm animals.

The Court held last week in Texas West Oaks Hosp. v. Williams, that an employee of a nonsubscriber hospital employer must comply with the procedures set forth in the Texas Medical Liability Act (i.e. the progeny of the 2003 tort reform movement), and barred the employee's claims against his employer.

If I haven’t already lost you, you are probably thinking,

Wait a minute, what is a “nonsubscriber”, and what does a case about a hospital employee have to do with the horse industry? 

Bear with me, this material is sort of complicated, but I hope the point of this post will be clear to you by the time you get to the end (if you in fact make it that far!)

Nonsubscriber Status. Are you a nonsubscriber?  Most Texas horse industry employers are “nonsubscribers”, at least for some of their employees.  If you have employees or so-called “independent contractors” who might really be employees under the true legal definition, you should be aware if you are or are not a nonsubscriber. 

Why does it matter? The Texas Workers’ Compensation Act allows employers to elect whether or not they will subscribe to worker’s compensation insurance.  If an employer does subscribe and an employee is hurt during the scope of their employment, the employee is generally precluded from filing suit, and must instead pursue administrative remedies for benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. 

But if an employer elects to forego workers’ compensation coverage, it is subject to suits at common law for injuries suffered by employees on the job. Not only that, nonsubscribers are generally not able to avail themselves of many common-law defenses to negligence claims in suits brought by employees. See this prior post for more details. 

That said, I should note as an aside that some “farm or ranch employees” are excluded from the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act altogether (did I mention before that this is complex stuff?).

So here’s the question that remains unsettled: What if a nonsubscriber employer is sued by an employee, and the employee’s injuries arose from dangers inherent in an equine activity? Can the employer invoke the immunity from liability granted to virtually all people in the Farm Animal (formerly Equine) Limitation of Liability Act (um...we'll just call it Chapter 87)? 

As we have discussed at length, the Supreme Court has not yet decided this issue. Two appellate courts have indicated a willingness to apply Chapter 87 to bar suits brought by horse industry independent contractors, but one court of appeals refused to apply Chapter 87 to bar a suit brought by a horse industry employee. 

Plaintiffs’ lawyers who represent injured employees generally assert the argument that Chapter 87 was intended to apply to tourists or consumers, and not workers. They further assert that Chapter 87 cannot bar employees’ suits because it would abrogate employer duties under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The employee's lawyers in Williams made similar arguments about the Medical Liability Act.

The Williams DecisionWilliams is significant to the equine industry, at least in my mind, because it shows a willingness on the part of the Supreme Court to allow “tort reform” type statutes to bar an employee’s claim against a nonsubscriber. Not unlike the Medical Liability Act, Chapter 87 is another law that was passed to limit liability for certain types of claims. Furthermore, the plain language of Chapter 87 itself does not exclude suits brought against nonsubscriber employers (though it does expressly carve out other stuff, such as activities regulated by the Texas Racing Commission).  As such, I predict that if the Supreme Court of Texas ultimately takes up the issue, it is inclined to rule that Chapter 87’s immunity provisions apply to employees and other workers (subject to its exceptions, of course) .

Related posts:

Are Employers Immune from Liability for Employees’ Horse-Related Injuries in Texas?

Another Appellate Court Holds Chapter 87 Immunity Act Applies to Suits Brought by Independent Contractors

Update on Young v. McKim

Fort Worth Court of Appeals Reverses Summary Judgment Based on Chapter 87 Immunity Act

Yesterday, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals handed down an opinion in a case styled Hilz v. Riedel, reversing the trail court’s summary judgment granted in favor of a defendant based on Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”).

Case Background: Thirteen-year-old Ciarra Hilz was injured at her friend Steven’s house while riding a “five-year-old male quarter horse” by the name of “Logan.” Logan belonged to Steven’s dad, Richard Riedel. 

Ciarra’s father, Greg, claimed that he told Richard not to allow Ciarra to ride outside of the round-pen located on Richard’s property. Richard claimed that Greg never said anything about where he wanted Ciarra to ride horses.

Ciarra started her ride in the round pen, but then rode out into the pasture afterwards. While Ciarra was riding in the pasture, Logan “bolted” and ran Ciarra into a tree, causing a tree limb to impale Ciarra’s side. Ciarra was hospitalized for a week and had multiple surgeries.

Greg sued Richard Hilz on his own behalf and on behalf of Ciarra. Richard filed a motion for summary judgment under Section 87.003 of the Act, which, prior to its amendment in 2011 stated,

 

[e]xcept as provided by Section 87.004, any person…is not liable for…damages arising from the personal injury or death of a participant in an equine activity…if the…injury results from the dangers or conditions that are an inherent risk of an equine activity.

Richard’s motion further addressed the reasons why he was not liable under the exceptions to the Act provided in Section 87.004(2) [failure to make a reasonable and prudent effort to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity] and 87.004(3) [dangerous latent condition of the land].

However, Greg had amended his petition to add an allegation that the exception provided in Section 87.004(4) [commission of an act or omission with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant] before filing his summary judgment response.

The Appeal: The Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of Richard, holding that:

1) a fact issue precluding summary judgment existed as to the exception found in Section 87.004(2) because Greg claimed that he told Richard not to let Ciarra ride outside the round pen; and

2) Because Richard did not amend his motion for summary judgment to include the exception found in Section 87.004(4), summary judgment was improper on that claim.

Take Aways: Defendants relying upon the Act in a motion for summary judgment should 1) include arguments as to why each and every pleaded exception to the Act does not apply; and 2) have parents and minors sign carefully-drafted liability waivers prior to allowing guests to ride; and 3) have parents put all specific instructions regarding their child’s participation in equine activities in writing.

Case Information: Hilz v. Riedel, No. 02-11-00288-CV, 2012 WL 2135648 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Jun. 14, 2012, no pet h.)

Photo:  In celebration of Father's Day this Sunday, today's photo is of my dad, Chuck McCormack, and me riding at Bardwell Lake.  Have a great Father's Day everyone!

Update on Young v. McKim

Last week, we discussed Young v. McKim, a case dealing with whether or not Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code applies to workers.  Here's a link to the post.

Young has filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the Fourteeth Court of Appeals in Houston.  A link to the motion can be found here

It is my understanding that Young intends to appeal her case to the Supreme Court of Texas.

I will post updates as they become available.  

 

 

Another Appellate Court Holds Chapter 87 Immunity Act Applies to Suits Brought by Independent Contractors

As we discussed in this prior post, the Supreme Court of Texas has not yet addressed the issue of whether Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”) shields defendants from liability in suits where employees or independent contractors are injured while engaging in an equine activities. Up until last week, we only had two opinions—both from intermediate appellate courts—addressing this issue. 

In the first case—Johnson v. Smith (Corpus Christi 2002)—the court held that independent contractors were participants under the Act, and therefore the Act shielded defendants in suits brought by independent contractors from liability. In the second case—Dodge v. Durdin (Houston [1st] 2005)—the court held that employees are not participants under the Act, and therefore defendants in suits brought by employees are not immune from liability.

As of last Thursday, we now have a third appellate case that sheds light on this issue. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston recently held that the Act immunizes defendants from liability for claims brought by independent contractors.

The case, styled Young v. McKim, represents the first equine employee negligence suit addressed by a Texas court of appeals since Loftin v. Lee was handed down by the Texas Supreme Court in April of 2011. 

Case Background: Brenda Young had posted a flyer at Ravensway Stables advertising her ability to assist owners in the care of their horses. Tisa McKim and her daughter, Jackie, hired Young to care for their horses—Jasper and Butch—at Ravensway. 

About two months after Young started caring for Jasper (a rescue horse), Jasper kicked Young and injured her. The injury occurred while Young was talking to another boarder at Ravensway while Jasper grazed beside her.

Young sued the McKims for negligence, and the McKims moved for summary judgment under the version of the Act in existence in 2010 (i.e. before the Act was amended in 2011). The trial court granted the McKims’ motion for summary judgment. 

The Appeal: The Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the McKims. On appeal, Young alleged that the Act did not shield the McKims from liability.  Among the reasons Young gave were 1) only “tourists and other consumers of equine activities” qualify as participants under the Act; and 2) Young was an employee of the McKims, not an independent contractor.  Young relied heavily on the First Court of Appeals’ opinion in Dodge on appeal.

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals determined that Young was an independent contractor, not an employee.  The court did not reach the issue of whether the Act would have applied had Young been an employee. The Fourteenth Court disagreed with the discussion in Dodge suggesting that the Act only applied to “tourists and other consumers of equine activities.”

Citing Loftin, the Fourteenth Court held,

“The Equine Act is a comprehensive limitation of liability for equine activities of all kinds…The Equine Act applies to all ‘participants’”. [Emphasis supplied].

It remains to be seen whether Young will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas. Given the Supreme Court’s expansive view of the Act set forth in Loftin, the Supreme Court might disagree with Dodge’s holding that the Act does not apply to employees.

Case Information:  Young v. McKim, No. 14-11-00376-CV, 2012 WL 1951099 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th] May 31, 2012, no pet h.).

Related Posts:

Are Employers Immune from Liability for Employees’ Horse-Related Injuries in Texas?

Victory for Horse Industry in Texas Supreme Court

Does Your Farm Need to Purchase Worker’s Compensation Insurance?

Time to Get New Warning Signs: Equine Activity Act Amended in 2011

Are Employers Immune from Liability for Employees' Horse-Related Injuries in Texas?

In general, a defendant can only be immune from suit in a Texas horse-related injury case if the plaintiff was a “participant in a farm animal activity or livestock show” when the injuries occurred.

Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”) was amended in 2011 to, among other things, include farm animals other than equines. However, the “participant” requirement did not change in 2011.  Neither the former nor the current version of the Act specifically states whether or not employees of equine activity sponsors are considered “participants in a farm animal activity or livestock show” under the Act.

The 1st Court of Appeals in Houston is the only Texas court to have taken up this issue (Dodge v. Durdin, 2005).  In that case, Deborah Dodge sued her employers, Magestic Moments Stables, et al, after a horse kicked her in the abdomen as she was administering paste-wormer at the direction of her employer. Dodge claimed that she incurred $4,000 in medical bills as a result of her injuries, and that her employers’ negligence was the proximate cause of her damages. 

Majestic Moments claimed that Dodge's suit was barred by the Act.  The trial court agreed, and dismissed the case.  On appeal, the 1st Court of Appeals disagreed that the Act applied to an employer / employee relationship.

This warning sign should not be a "news flash" to anyone.

Citing its review of legislative intent, together with the duties assigned to Texas employers under the Texas Labor Code, the 1st Court of Appeals held that, “the Equine Act applies to consumers and not to employees and that Dodge is therefore not a ‘participant’ under the Equine Act.” 

Workers’ compensation did not cover Dodge’s alleged injures. Unlike employers in many states, Texas employers are able to opt out of the workers’ compensation system. For more information, see this post.

In Dodge, the 1st Court of Appeals noted that the only other Texas court to have addressed the definition of “participant” was the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals in Johnson v. Smith (2002). In that case, the Corpus Christi court acknowledged that an independent contractor—not an employee—in charge of breeding and handling stallions was a participant under the Act.  The 1st Court of Appeals distinguished the Johnson case from the Dodge case on its facts.

Neither the Dodge nor the Johnson case were appealed to the Supreme Court. 

The Texas Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether or not an employee or independent contractor who is injured while working with horses on their employer’s premises is a “participant” for purposes of the Act.  Until the Supreme Court takes up this issue or the Legislature clarifies it, this issue continues to be somewhat unsettled in Texas. Texas equine businesses should therefore not rely upon the Act to provide immunity from suits brought by employees or independent contractors. 

Businesses can take several steps to minimize liability risk in this area, including 1) procuring insurance to cover employee or independent contractor injuries; 2) having employees or independent contractors sign liability releases; and 3) forming limited liability entities through which employees and independent contractors are retained.

A special thank you to reader Lois Mermelstein, Esq. of Austin, Texas for submitting this topic suggestion.

Time to Get New Warning Signs: Equine Activity Act Amended in 2011

As of June 17, 2011, the Texas Equine Activity Limitation of Liability Act was amended to include most common farm and livestock animals. The new Act will now be called the “Texas Farm Animal Limitation of Liability Act.”

In short, the immunities related to damages arising from horse activities found in Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code [formerly referred to as the “Texas Equine Activity Limitation of Liability Act”] now apply to all “farm animals”. A “farm animal” includes: an equine animal, a bovine animal, a sheep or goat, a pig or hog, a ratite [which, in case you have never heard of a “ratite”, includes an ostrich, rhea or emu], and a chicken or other fowl. 

The 82nd Texas Legislature [regular session] adopted amendments to the former Texas Equine Limitation of Liability Act through Senate Bill 479, the text of which can be found here. While most statutory amendments and new laws from the 2011 legislative session will not be effective until September 1, 2011, the amendments to the Act became effective “immediately” upon the requisite 2/3 vote in the Texas House on June 17, 2011.

The amended statute only applies to causes of action that accrue on or after June 17, 2011. 

Notable amendments to the Act include:

  • “Farm Animal Activities” now include rodeos, “events” in general, and “handling, loading, or unloading” a farm animal;
  • Providers of veterinarian and farrier services are now included in the definition of “Farm Animal Professional” ; and
  • The Chapter 87 warning sign language that is now required to be posted by “Farm Animal Professionals” is as follows:

WARNING: UNDER TEXAS LAW (CHAPTER 87, CIVIL PRACTICE & REMEDIES CODE) A FARM ANIMAL PROFESSIONAL IS NOT LIABLE FOR AN INJURY TO OR THE DEATH OF A PARTICIPANT IN FARM ANIMAL ACTIVITIES RESULTING FROM THE INHERENT RISKS OF FARM ANIMAL ACTIVITIES.

“Farm Animal Professionals” should post new warning signs containing the updated version of the Act’s warning language. See the link above to the newly-adopted language for the warning sign language and provide same to whomever you have make new signs for your property. It will probably be a while before signs containing the updated warning language will be mass-produced and sold at places like Tractor Supply Co., feed stores, et cetera.

Related Post: Victory for Texas Horse Industry in Texas Supreme Court

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