On March 23, Dan Barton won a $12 million jury verdict on behalf of his client Robert Earl Roye, who was scalded over a large part of his body, and Roye’s wife.

In their eighth amended petition, filed Feb. 6 in Harris County’s 165th District Court, the Royes alleged that in May 2009, Robert’s employer sent him to inspect valves and steam traps on a steam line on the premises of an E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. plant in La Porte. During the inspection, the ground caved in and Roye fell into an open pit of hot steam. The plaintiffs alleged DuPont’s negligence had allowed steam traps to be built without the use of French drains, thereby allowing for soil erosion and the creation of the pit. [See the petition.]

In the pit, Roye sustained third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body, the plaintiffs alleged in Robert Earl Roye, et al. v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., et al. Their causes of action against DuPont included negligence and premises liability.

In its May 31, 2011, answer, DuPont issued a general denial and affirmatively stated that Roye operated under the “sole direction and control of his employer on premises occupied and controlled by his employer . . .” — not DuPont. [See the answer.]

Tom Harrison, a partner in Corpus Christi’s Manning, Ward, Harrison, Venecia & Rodriguez who represents DuPont, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

During his closing argument, Barton, a partner in the Barton Law Firm in Houston, says he told jurors that the water in the 3-foot pit into which Roye fell was 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Roye was scalded from the chest down and endured extensive hospital stays, Barton said.

Before the verdict, Barton says DuPont — the only defendant at trial — offered his clients $250,000 to settle, but they declined.

After a 21-day trial, the jury returned a plaintiffs’ verdict. It said DuPont, Roye’s employer at the time of the accident and a third company were negligent and it assigned DuPont 51 percent of the responsibility for the accident, thereby making the company jointly and severally liable under Texas law, according to the jury charge.

The jury also decided that Roye was an invitee of DuPont and his employer and it assigned DuPont, “as premises owner or occupier,” 60 percent responsibility for the accident, according to the jury charge.

The 12 jurors were unable to reach a unanimous decision on questions of DuPont’s alleged gross negligence and potential punitive damages so the panel, as the judge instructed, left those blank on the jury charge.

With the kind of injury Roye suffered, Barton says the most challenging part of the trial for him was persuading jurors that DuPont was liable. Barton’s job was even tougher because the jury charge allowed jurors to assign responsibility not only to DuPont but to Roye, a company that settled before trial and Roye’s employer at the time of the accident, a nonparty. Barton says the Texas Workers Compensation Act prevented Roye from suing the employer. [See the jury charge.]

 

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