Texas Engineering Extension Service v. Ronald Parrish and Anita Parrish--Appeal from 85th District Court of Brazos County

Annotate this Case
Texas Engineering v. Parrish /**/

IN THE

TENTH COURT OF APPEALS

 

No. 10-95-183-CV

 

TEXAS ENGINEERING EXTENSION SERVICE,

Appellant

v.

 

RONALD PARRISH AND ANITA PARRISH,

Appellees

 

From the 85th District Court

Brazos County, Texas

Trial Court # 35,409-85

 

O P I N I O N

 

This is an appeal by Appellant Texas Engineering Service (TEES) from a judgment of $75,000 (plus prejudgment interest) in favor of Appellee Ronald Parrish.

Parrish was injured September 5, 1990, while attending a training course at TEES' Fire Fighting School. TEES is a facility of Texas A&M University and thus a unit of the State of Texas. Parrish was employed by Shell Oil Company which had contracted with TEES for the training of its firemen. TEES's responsibilities included provision of the training field and fuel for the exercise. TEES' personnel trained the Shell employees, set up the exercise and supervised the Shell personnel during the exercise. TEES' personnel operated the valves and pumps which furnished fuel and water to the facility. The TEES employee who operated the valves during the exercise, and the only person controlling the flow of fuel at the time of Parrish's injury, was Tim Miskimen.

Four substances were fed into the facility: gasoline, diesel, propane and water. Only propane traveled through the pipes under its own pressure. The other substances were transported through the pipes by pumps.

There is evidence that Miskimen operated the valves out of proper sequence, i.e., failing to close the gasoline valve before opening the propane valve, and that this caused a "blob" of burning gasoline to fall upon Chris Hoover, a co-worker of Parrish, catching Hoover on fire. Hoover panicked and ran into Parrish causing severe injuries to Parrish's knee. Medical bills for Parrish's injuries were stipulated to be $14,295.28.

Appellee Parrish sued TEES under the provisions of the Texas Tort Claims Act (Section 101.021, Government Liability).

There was testimony that the operation of the fluid valves out of sequence caused the "blob" of gasoline to emit and that the release of the burning gasoline was the cause of the event. There was testimony that no Shell employee was operating any of the valves; and that the response by Shell employees to this event was foreseeable.

Trial was to a jury which found as follows:

Question No. 1: Did the operation of the valve manifold and fuel piping system to the Chemical Project at the Fireman Training School on September 5, 1990, involve the operation or use of motor driven equipment?

Answer: Yes

Question No. 2: Did the negligence, if any, of those named below proximately cause any injury to Ronald Parrish?

Answer: (a) TEES Yes

(b) Parrish No

Question No. 4: Did the negligence, if any, of the persons named below proximately cause any injury to Ronald Parrish? In considering this question, consider only any injury to Parrish proximately caused by a negligent use, if any, of tangible personal or real property at the Chemical Project at the Fireman's Training School on September 5, 1990.

Answer: (a) TEES Yes

(b) Parrish No

Question No. 6: [Found no premises defect]

Question No. 8: The damage question considering:

(a) physical pain and mental anguish;

(b) loss of earning capacity;

(c) physical impairment; and

(d) medical care.

Answer: $75,000

The trial court rendered judgment for Appellee Parrish for $75,000 plus prejudgment interest.

Appellant appeals on three points of error:

Point one: The trial court erred in entering judgment for Parrish because the jury issue on which he prevailed was defective and omitted necessary elements for recovery.

Specifically, Appellant complains of Question No. 4. Appellant asserts the question to be improper because it was submitted on a general negligence theory rather than as a premise defect, and that such improper submission imposed a greater duty upon TEES than allowed by the Texas Tort Claims Act.

Section 101.021, Government Liability, provides:

A governmental unit in this state is liable for:

(1) Property damage, personal injury, and death proximately caused by the wrongful act or omission or the negligence of any employee acting within the scope of his employment if:

(A) the property damage, personal injury, or death arises from the operation or use of a motor driven vehicle or motor driven equipment; and

(B) the employee would be personally liable to the claimant according to Texas law; and

(2) Personal injury and death so caused by a condition or use of tangible personal or real property if the governmental unit would, were it a private person, be liable to the claimant according to Texas law.

Section 101.021(2) clearly states that a governmental unit in this state is liable for personal injury caused by use of tangible personal or real property, if the governmental unit, were it a private person, would be liable to the claimant.

If a statute is clear and unambiguous, the statute should be given its everyday meaning. Coil v. Service Motors, Inc., 660 S.W.2d 814, 815 (Tex. 1983).

Recovery on negligent use or negligent activity theory requires that the person have been injured by or as a contemporaneous result of the activity itself, rather than by a condition created by the condition by the activity. Keetch v. Kroger Co., 845 S.W.2d 262, 264 (Tex. 1991); Williams v. Olivo, 912 S.W.2d 319, 325 (Tex. App. San Antonio 1995).

Texas Dept. of Transp. v. Ramining, 861 S.W.2d 940 (Tex. App. Houston [14th Dist.] 1993, writ denied), follows Keetch and applies negligent use or negligent activity on premises to the Tort Claims Act in suits against a governmental unit of the state.

In this case it was Miskimen's mishandling of the valves which directly, immediately and contemporaneously caused the burning "blob" of gasoline to come out of the pipe and land on Hoover. This was a negligent activity case under the authorities cited supra. The trial court's submission was not erroneous.

Moreover, counsel for TEES in open court stated that Parrish could predicate a case on use or misuse of the valves if he chose. Such admission in open court is binding on TEES. Carrisco v. Tex. Transp. Institute, Tex. A&M Univ. Systems, 908 S.W.2d 575, 578 (Tex. App. Waco 1995, no writ). Point one is overruled.

Point two: The trial court erred in entering judgment for Parrish because the jury issue on which he prevailed was defective and omitted necessary elements for recovery. Additionally, there was no evidence or, alternatively, insufficient evidence supporting the involvement of motor driven equipment.

Specifically, Appellant attacks Questions Nos. 1 and 2 urging that it was necessary for them to include findings applicable to a case in which injury resulted from a condition on premises. As stated under point one, this case was based on injury stemming from a negligent activity on premises in which situation a general submission of negligence is appropriate. The trial court submitted this question to determine if liability could be established under Section 101.021(1) of the Texas Tort Claims Act. We hold the evidence sufficient to support the submission of Questions No. 1 and No. 2.

Appellant asserts there is no evidence, or insufficient evidence, to support the involvement of motor driven equipment. There is evidence of motor driven equipment in connection with valves bringing fluids to the training site, and same is ample and sufficient to support the finding. Point two is overruled.

Point three: The trial court erroneously refused properly requested jury issues concerning comparative negligence of Parrish's employer Shell Oil Company. Shell was a subscriber to Texas Workers Compensation. In such situation an employer's negligence may not be considered in a third-party action brought by an employee arising out of an accidental injury covered by Workers Compensation. Varela v. American Petrofina Co., 658 S.W.2d 561, 562 (Tex. 1983)

Moreover, this court does not find in the record where Appellant requested in writing, submission of jury questions it now complains the trial court refused to submit. See Rule 278, Texas Rules Civil Procedure. Point three is overruled.

The judgment is affirmed.

FRANK G. McDONALD

Chief Justice (Retired)

 

Before Justice Cummings,

Justice Vance and

Chief Justice McDonald (Retired)

Affirmed

Opinion delivered and filed May 29, 1996

Do not publish