ORIGINAL PROCEEDING WRIT OF MANDAMUS 125th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2011-44838
Panel Consists of Justices Boyce, McCally, and Donovan.
On September 16, 2013, relator, Wyatt Field Service Company, filed a petition for writ of mandamus in this Court. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 22.221; see also Tex. R. App. P. 52. In the petition, relator asks this court to compel the Honorable Kyle Carter, presiding judge of the 125th District Court of Harris County, to vacate his March 4, 2013 order granting the motion for new trial filed by real parties in interest, David McBride and Glenn Burns. We deny the petition.
On July 3, 2011, David McBride and Glenn Burns were working as employees of LWL, Inc. on a tank in the flexicoker unit of ExxonMobil Corporation's Baytown refinery. They were replacing "dummy nozzles" inside the tank with spray nozzles. While they were removing a dummy nozzle, "it shot out and blew." There was an explosion causing McBride and Burns to be thrown, and blowing steam and coking material onto McBride and Burns, causing them to sustain severe burns and injuries. McBride and Burns sued Wyatt for negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence for improperly installing a safety chain. McBride and Burns also sued ExxonMobil, which settled before trial.
Wyatt did not dispute that the safety chain was installed in an incorrect location, the condition was unreasonably dangerous, or McBride and Burns were not warned of the incorrect installation. On January 30, 2013, the case went to trial, and on February 13, 2013, the jury reached a verdict, finding (1) Wyatt was not negligent; (2) ExxonMobil exercised or retained some control over the manner in which the work in question was performed, other than the right to order the work to start or stop or to inspect progress or receive reports; and (3) ExxonMobil's negligence with respect to the condition of the dummy nozzle system proximately caused the occurrence. Although the jury found damages for McBride ($902, 681.41) and Burns ($2, 905, 898.95), neither would recover because of the jury's no-negligence finding as to Wyatt.
Real parties filed a motion for new trial, arguing (1) no factually sufficient evidence supported the jury's finding that Wyatt was not negligent, the finding was contrary to the great weight and preponderance of the evidence, and the verdict was manifestly unjust; and (2) Wyatt's repeated injection of collateral sources tainted the verdict.
On March 4, 2013, the trial court granted real parties' motion for new trial as follows:
The Court has considered Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial, all responsive briefing, the arguments of counsel, and the Court's own observations during the trial of this case. The Court believes Plaintiffs' motion is meritorious and should be granted.
The jury's answer to Question 1(a) was contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The great and overwhelming preponderance of the evidence showed that the safety chain at issue in this case was installed in an incorrect location. The great weight and overwhelming preponderance of the evidence also showed that the incorrect location of the safety chain created an unreasonably dangerous condition. The great weight and overwhelming preponderance of the evidence introduced at trial confirmed that Defendant Wyatt Field Services Company installed the safety chain in 2008 and that the chain remained in the same location until July 3, 2011. Further, the great weight and overwhelming preponderance of evidence introduced at trial confirmed that Plaintiffs were never warned that the safety chain was incorrectly installed and had no reason to be aware of the danger. The interests of justice require a new trial.
A new trial is also required because Defendant and its witnesses regularly injected evidence of collateral sources into the case in violation of the Court's order granting Plaintiffs [sic] motion in limine on this topic. This inadmissible evidence tainted the jury's verdict. Good cause and the interests of justice require the Court to grant a new trial.
On April 9, 2013, the trial court entered the following findings of fact in support of its new trial order:
1. The jury's finding that Defendant Wyatt Field Services Company was not negligent is against the great weight and ...