Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

Texas Causes of Action & Affirmative Defenses

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NEGLIGENCE: Negligent Creation of Dangerous Situation

Is there a legal duty to control the actions of others to prevent harm? - It depends. NEGLIGENCE WITH RESPECT TO ACTS OF THIRD-PARTIES

A cause of action for negligence arises when an actor breaches a legal duty and the breach proximately causes damages. Columbia Med. Ctr. of Las Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, 271 S.W.3d 238, 246 (Tex. 2008). Texas law generally imposes no duty to control the acts of another person to prevent harm to third parties absent certain special relationships or circumstances. Providence Health Ctr. v. Dowell, 262 S.W.3d 324, 331 (Tex. 2008); Torrington Co. v. Stutzman, 46 S.W.3d 829, 837 (Tex. 2000); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 315 (1965).

Examples of relationships that have been recognized as giving rise to a duty to control include employer/employee, parent/child, and independent contractor/contractee. Greater Houston Transp. Co. v. Phillips, 801 S.W.2d 523, 525 (Tex. 1990). A party who agrees to attempt to help someone else has a duty to provide that help without negligently harming the person in need. Torrington, 46 S.W.3d at 837-38; see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323. (2)

A party who negligently creates a dangerous situation has a duty to attempt to prevent injury to others if it reasonably appears or should appear to him that others in the exercise of their lawful rights may be injured thereby. SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Doe, 903 S.W.2d 347, 353 (Tex. 1995) (citing Buchanan v. Rose, 159 S.W.2d 109, 110 (Tex. 1942)). However, a mere bystander who did not create a dangerous situation generally is not required to intervene and prevent injury to others. See id.; see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 314 ("The fact that [an] actor realizes or should realize that action on his part is necessary for another's aid or protection does not of itself impose upon him a duty to take such action.").

Whether a legal duty exists is a question of law for the court. Trammell Crow Cent. Tex., Ltd. v. Gutierrez, 267 S.W.3d 9, 12 (Tex. 2008). In determining whether the defendant was under a duty, the court will consider several interrelated factors, including the risk, foreseeability, and likelihood of injury weighed against the social utility of the actor's conduct, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury, and the consequences of placing the burden on the defendant. Phillips, 801 S.W.2d at 525.

Courts have also considered whether one party has superior knowledge of the risk, and whether a right to control the actor whose conduct precipitated the harm exists. Graff v. Beard, 858 S.W.2d 918, 920 (Tex. 1993). Appellants do not cite any authority establishing a legal duty by individuals to control the actions of a companion who is under the influence of drugs or similar behavior-altering substances. (3) Therefore, to hold that there is a duty in this case, we must interpret an existing duty to include the behavior described in the plaintiffs' pleadings or recognize a new duty under Texas law.

SOURCE: 03-07-00251-CV (Austin Court of Appeals)(11/4/09)