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Texas Supreme Court Clarifies Applicability of Discovery Rule in Personal Injury Suits

Applying the statute of limitations for legal, rather than discoverable, personal injury, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed a personal injury suit against Schlumberger Technology Corporation that arose from the mishandling of fracking liquids.  Schlumberger Tech. Corp. v. Pasko, 544 S.W.3d 830 (Tex. 2018).

On May 6, 2013, a Schlumberger employee ordered a contract worker to clean up a spill of fracking liquid, which included a toxic substance known as “U028,” without providing protective equipment.  Immediately thereafter, the worker experienced severe skin burns and eventually received treatment from a nearby hospital.  Four months after the incident, in September 2013, a doctor diagnosed the worker with squamous cell carcinoma cancer. 

The worker filed suit on May 5, 2015, just before the two-year statute of limitations ended, but did not initially name Schlumberger as a defendant.  On August 13, 2015, the worker filed a first amended petition to add Schlumberger.  Schlumberger filed for summary judgment and argued that the court should apply Texas’s legal injury rule, which bars claims brought more than two years after a legally cognizable injury occurs.  The defendant argued that the statute of limitations had run on May 6, 2015, two years after the worker knew of his initial injuries, and that the worker had known of Schlumberger’s involvement at the time of the incident in May of 2013.

 The trial court granted summary judgment.  The worker appealed, arguing that material facts existed as to the applicability of the discovery rule in this case, which, the plaintiff argued, extended the statute of limitations until two years after the carcinoma diagnosis.  The appellate court agreed with the worker that Texas’s discovery rule applied and that Schlumberger failed to provide evidence to negate its applicability. 

On appeal, the Texas Supreme Court held that Schlumberger conclusively established that the legal injury rule applied and that the worker’s cause of action accrued on the day of injury.  The court held that application of the discovery rule depends on whether an injured person is aware of an injury and whether the injury is caused by the wrongful acts of another, not whether the injured person knows the tortfeasor’s exact identity or full effects of the injury.  In this case, the worker suffered severe burns on May 6, 2013, knew immediately of the burn as he sought medical treatment, and knew a Schlumberger employee had assigned him the clean-up task.  The court also held the latent occupational disease rule, similar to the discovery rule, did not apply because the latent occupational disease rule applies only in circumstances where there is no traumatic injury or reason to know of potential injuries.