Fletcher Farley Newsletter

April 2024

 "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act."
Proverbs 3:27

Greetings from Fred Arias

It is almost here! The Greatest Show in Texas in 2024. An event that has been running continuously (minus a COVID year) since the mid-nineties, coincidentally around the last time the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl. An event where new and old friends gather for good food, legal updates, some laughter, and most important, great fellowship. It is the Fletcher Farley Texas Law Update!  For over 25 plus years, it has been our pleasure putting on this presentation. Both older—some who no longer need CE hours, and newer attendees nearly always leave having learned something new. I expect that this year will be even better, as we have a captivating group of speakers, which includes many of our younger, motivated, and energetic attorneys. We have some seats available, so please share this with your friends and co-workers.  We want them to share in this Greatest Show!

Determining Legal Duty


by Rachael Favret

Negligence is the most common cause of action pleaded in lawsuits in Texas today. One of the most important elements required to establish that a party acted negligently is the existence of a legal duty. Texas law defines the word duty as “the obligation to conform to a particular standard of conduct towards another.” If it cannot be established that a Defendant owed the Plaintiff a duty to act in in a particular way, then the Defendant cannot be held responsible for any negligent action. Many duties can be defined by the parties’ specific relationship - for example, a doctor owes a duty to her patients, an attorney owes a duty to her clients, and landowners owe certain duties to their guests. Just how far that duty extends, however, is more nebulous. A landowner has a duty to make their own property safe for guests, or at least to warn their guests about any dangerous conditions on the property that the owner knew about or should have known about. But what about a dangerous condition on an adjacent property that still poses a risk to the landowner’s guests? If the landowner knows his guests could suffer injury due to this condition, shouldn’t he have a duty to warn them? Well, just recently, the Texas Supreme Court tackled this very question in HNMC v. Chan

The Defendant, HNMC, owns a hospital in Houston with a parking lot located across the street. This street is owned and maintained by Harris County. Many of the employees of this hospital would park in this parking lot, and rather than walking to the end of the block for the crosswalk, they would routinely just cross the road in the middle, closer to the hospital’s exit. This, unfortunately, contributed to several vehicle accident involving pedestrians on this road. HNMC asked the county to implement some safety measures to prevent more accidents, which the county did. The county then recommended HNMC take additional measures, which they did not do. In 2015, a nurse who had been employed by HNMC for over 30 years was struck and killed by a vehicle exiting the hospital’s parking lot as she was crossing the middle of the road. Her estate and surviving family members sued the driver and his employer, who in turn designated HNMC and Harris County as responsible 3rd parties. At the end of the trial, the jury found all parties behaved negligently, assigning 20% of the liability to HNMC. HNMC appealed, arguing in part that they owed no legal duty to the nurse. Upon reconsideration, the court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

The general rule in Texas is that landowners do not have a duty to make safe public roadways adjacent to their property. There are four exceptions to this rule, however. If HNMC had agreed to make the road safe for pedestrians, created the danger to pedestrians, assumed actual control over the roadway, or failed to warn people about an obscured danger near the entrance or exit to their property, they would have had a legal duty to pedestrians. The court found that HNMC did not fall within any of these exceptions. Rather than determining HNMC did not owe a duty to the pedestrians, the court decided to apply the factors in Greater Houston Transportation Co. v. Phillips to create a new, situation-specific duty to apply in this case. HNMC then petitioned to the Texas Supreme Court for review.

In their decision, the Texas Supreme Court stated that courts should only consider recognizing a new duty if one has not already been recognized in that set of circumstances. Because this set of circumstances had indeed already been recognized by the law (a landowner’s duty, or lack thereof, to make safe roadways adjacent to their property) there was no need to apply the Phillips factors to determine if a duty did or did not exist. The Supreme Court held that not only did the trial court err in applying Phillips in the first place, but the execution of the application was also flawed. Phillips may only be used to identify a category of cases in which a duty should exist, not to manufacture a duty based on the hyper-specific facts of a case where one previously did not exist. The ramifications of the trial court’s decision, had it not been ultimately reversed by the Supreme Court, would provide an opportunity for trial courts to create new duties based on each and every particular set of facts in a case. This would make it difficult for individuals or companies to determine the extent of their legal duties to others, potentially punishing them for breaching a duty that they had no way of knowing existed. Thankfully, due to the Supreme Court’s decision, the stability of Texas tort law remains. 

Conflicts Resolved

Nonsuit Attained and Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Granted!

In a Dallas County lawsuit, Julia Sinor, Joe Harrison, and Iris Harris obtained a Nonsuit on the day that Plaintiff’s Response to our clients’ Motion for Summary Judgment was due. The Plaintiff was a passenger in a company-owned truck driven by the company’s employee. Notwithstanding a minor impact, Plaintiff claimed serious injuries. In his deposition, Plaintiff blamed the driver of the other vehicle, and could not identify any way that the company’s driver was negligent or could have avoided the accident. After failed settlement negotiations, we filed the No-Evidence Motion for Summary Judgment, which prompted the Plaintiff to nonsuit his case.

Julia Sinor, Joe Harrison, and David Colley filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment which was granted in full, in a Dallas County lawsuit. Plaintiffs made varied, broad-reaching claims against their condominium owners’ association and its property manager, relating to a fire sprinkler replacement project required by the local fire marshal. These Plaintiffs sued on theories of negligent hiring, training, and retention, breach of contract, negligence, and conversion. They claimed that Defendants were responsible for damage to their property, and for alleged theft of property from their condominium units. They claimed that an independent contractor was the Defendants’ employee, and that Defendants had not performed an adequate background check, though Plaintiffs lacked evidence that the independent contractor stole any items. After the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment was granted, the Plaintiffs continued to pursue recovery for a time, but ultimately nonsuited the remainder of their case without any settlement.  


Texas Law Update 2024

You won't want to miss Fletcher Farley's Annual Texas Law Update in Dallas on April 19th, 2024!

Located at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at Campbell Center.

Registration is required and seats are limited so be sure to register today!

Karina Ragha

4/4 - 2 years

Yolanda Rodriguez

4/6 - 9 years

Jason Jacob

4/6 - 3 years

Joe Harrison

4/6 - 4 years

Joanna Salinas

4/8 - 28 years

Thank you for being an essential part of our success. Happy Anniversary!

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Solar Eclipse

The Fletcher Farley team went out and viewed the total eclipse in Dallas.

Fletcher Farley Shipman & Salinas LLP

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