No, at least not in Dimmit County, Texas, under the facts of In Re: Wood Group PSN, Inc. et al. Twenty-nine contractors and producers were sued by Dimmitt County for damaging a 6.9 mile long non-asphalt county road by their trucks, heavy equipment and other oilfield traffic. Twenty-two moved to dismiss the case. The trial court, in its sound discretion while no-doubt mindful of who votes and where his paycheck comes from, denied the motions. The appellate court reversed.
The claims were reasonable enough … if you’re a taxpayer
- The defendants, jointly or singularly, negligently and intentionally, used the road in a manner that damaged or destroyed it.
- The road was used during a non-exclusive list of 19 severe rain events.
- The road was not designed to accommodate oilfield traffic and heavy equipment.
- The defendants failed to consider and evaluate whether the road could accommodate the equipment.
- The defendants observed that their vehicles caused severe damage but continued to use the road in the same manner without taking precautions.
- The defendants acted with conscious disregard that severe damage would be caused to the road.
As were the defenses .. if you’re being sued
- “Group” pleadings failed to identify specific instances of damage caused by negligence.
- The petition failed to attribute damage-causing negligence to a specific defendant.
- The allegations were conclusory.
- Vehicle operators can’t be responsible for ordinary wear and tear of a road caused by normal use.
- Claims that the defendants contributed to an indivisible injury for which they were jointly and severally liable has no basis in law.
Why the dismissal?
The defendants’ motion was under Rule 91a, a challenge a facially defective (unwinnable) lawsuit at an early stage. In ruling, the court looks at the petition only, construes it liberally in favor of the plaintiff, accepts factual allegations as true, and may draw reasonable inferences.
After accepting as true that the defendants’ actions resulted in severe damage to the road, the court concluded, amidst cheers from the front-end alignment lobby, that there was no basis in law to conclude that the operators had a legal duty not to damage roads. The allegation was not that they have a duty to repair or maintain the road.
The contention that the defendants used the road in an abnormal manner was conclusory. The county didn’t allege that use of the road was intended for a specific group other than the defendants. There was no notice prohibiting heavy vehicles from using the road during a rain event. (Will that come next?) There was no allegation that the defendants committed any unusual, abnormal or unlawful act that caused damage to the road.
What about a moral duty?
Empathizing with the citizens of South Texas counties experiencing heavy oilfield activity, the court suggested that the defendants have a moral duty to not damage county roads.
In that department, Dimmitt County is not the only area facing this problem:
Johnny Adams wants to help the drivers of Dimmit County.