2020 Environmental Real Estate Issues

A reactor at a chemical manufacturing facility ruptured, releasing flammable gas that ignited and burned several individuals. The injured persons sued, alleging the company’s workers were negligent, in part because they were distracted by using company-issued cell phones while monitoring the reactor. Events leading to the rupture began the day before it. The trial court ordered the company to provide usage data for the cell phones of three board operators and two supervisors for six weeks (for the supervisors) and four months (for the operators) before the rupture.

The company filed a mandamus proceeding, seeking a reversal of the trial court’s order. An intermediate appellate court denied the request. The company then appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas, which determined the trial court abused its discretion in ordering the company to provide cell-phone data for the time before the start of events leading to the rupture.

Allegations of Distraction
The Court noted the allegations were not that cell-phone use caused the rupture but that cell phones distracted employees while monitoring the reactor during the relevant time. As to one operator and one supervisor, the evidence showed no cell-phone use while they were monitoring the reactor. The other supervisor had a single two-second usage 90 minutes before the rupture. As to these three, the Court found no basis to require any further data.

More Evidence Required to Get More Data
For the other two operators, one had 10 seconds of usage while monitoring several hours before the rupture; another received two texts while monitoring and responded to one approximately one hour before the rupture. The Court held this evidence, alone, is not adequate to require the company to produce more of their cell-phone data; however, if other evidence shows these uses could be potentially contributing causes, the trial court can consider ordering the company to provide prior data.

To read the opinion https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1455413/200268pc.pdf