In the recent case, Rodriguez v. Crutchfield, decided by the Dallas Court of Appeals, we learn the importance of clearly evaluating all the parties we think may have liability and the importance of considering the statute of limitations in that evaluation.
In the case, Richard Rodriguez, a temporary worker driving a forklift for Dallas Transfer Warehouse Co. was injured on February 4, 2005, while unloading a trailer owned by P & H Transportation. The accident happened when P & H employee/driver, Milton Crutchfield, pulled the trailer away from the dock causing the forklift which Rodriguez was operating to fall. Rodriguez received workers compensation beneifts from ALEA North American Insurance Co.
ALEA then sued Crutchfield and P & H for subrogation. Rodriguez, on the same date, sued Dallas Transfer and the cases were consolidated. Crutchfield was never served. Dallas Transfer got out on summary judgment (presumably under the exclusive remedy provision of the workers comp statute) and ALEA nonsuited Dallas Transfer and P & H.
On April 22, 2008, Rodriguez attempted to amend his petition and sue Crutchfield and P & H. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Crutchfield and P & H based on the statute of limitations. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed as to Crutchfield because he was never served within the limitations period and Rodriguez did not comply with the due diligence requirement for service. The Court also granted summary judgment as to P & H because the only claims against it were brought by ALEA and were dismissed with prejudice on January 30, 2008. Texas law holds that when a case has been refiled following dismissal, the statute of limitations is calculated at the date of refiling, which in this case was well after the limiations period passed.
It’s surprising that Rodriguez did not sue Crutchfield and P & H when it sued Dallas Transfer. Once a plaintiff collects workers compensation, it’s hard for them to avoid the exclusive remedy provision, which bars negligence suits against employers. Moreover, it appears from the case that if Rodriguez had a negligence claim against anyone, it would be P & H and Crutchfield. Only subrogation claims were filed against P & H and Crutchfield. This case demonstrates the need to anticipate suing all parties at the outset of litigation and to be weary of the statute of limitations if you do not.
You can read the opinion HERE.