The Los Compadres case, decided by the Supreme Court of TX (SCOTX), addresses Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code. This important statute sets the minimum criteria that must be met to hold a property owner liable for injuries sustained by a contractor’s employee performing construction work on the property owner’s premises. The contractor’s injured employee must show that the property owner exercised or retained some control over the work being performed by the contractor, had actual knowledge of the condition that caused the employee to be injured, and failed to provide adequate warning. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 95.003. In this case SCOTX found that sufficient evidence supported the jury award against the property owner who failed to adequately warn its contractor’s employees who sustained electrical shock injuries caused by a live power line. Los Compadres Pescadores, L.L.C. v. Valdez, 622 S.W.3d 771, 781 (Tex. 2021), reh’g denied (June 11, 2021).
Background and Analysis. Property owner, Los Compadres Pescadores, LLC, employed Torres to act as its project manager to build a 4-unit condominium complex. Los Compadres hired independent contractor, Luis Paredes, Jr. d/b/a Paredes Power Drilling, to construct the pilings that had to be buried deep into the ground. AEP TX Central Co. owned the high-voltage power line that hung over the back part of Los Compadres’s property.
Torres initially told Paredes that he would contact AEP to do something about the power line. Torres instructed Paredes to start working on the front part of the property. Paredes warned his crew to stay away from the power line. On the second day of construction, Torres told Paredes that the power line was still energized. On the third day, Torres told Paredes that the power line would not be de-energized but to continue drilling to install the pilings. As Paredes and two of his crew members were lifting rebar to place it into concrete, one end of the rebar contacted the live power line.
The electricity shot down the rebar, threw the men off their feet, briefly knocked them unconscious, and caused burns to their hands and feet.
Id at * 778.
As a result, the two crew members filed a lawsuit including against Paredes. After the jury found in favor of the crew members, the trial court entered judgment based upon the verdict. The judgment was affirmed on appeal. Las Compadres filed a petition for review with SCOTX on grounds which included that the evidence was insufficient, under Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code, to support the jury’s verdict.
SCOTX agreed with Los Compadres that Chapter 95 applied. As a result, the crew members were required to prove that Los Compadres exercised some control over the work being performed, knew about the dangerous condition created by the power line, and failed to warn the crew members about this dangerous condition.
SCOTX found that there was sufficient evidence to prove this. This evidence included that:
- Los Compadres’s employee and superintendent, Torres, hired Paredes to perform the work.
- Torres instructed Paredes on the performance of the work.
- Torres controlled the work that led to the accident because he initially instructed Paredes to work from the front of the property and later told him to work on back of the property even though Torres knew the power line remained energized.
- The dangerous condition was not open and obvious to the two injured crew members because they did not know the line was energized.
Lessons learned. A property owner should make sure that its construction contracts do not contain language giving it the right to control the performance of the work to be performed by its contractors. Further, the property owner’s employees should refrain from instructing contractors on how to perform their construction work. Last but not least, dangerous conditions on the property should be corrected before any construction work begins.