Saturday, June 28, 2008

Judicial Tort Reform: UCC Breach-of-Implied-Warranty claim as a tort subject to comparative responsibility

Texas Supreme Court holds that a party who seeks damages for death or personal injury based on a breach of implied warranty cause of action under the Uniform Commercial Code seeks damages in tort and is accordingly subject to Chapter 33 of the Texas CPRC, the comparative responsibility statute. Wrongful death plaintiffs go home empty-handed even though corporate defendant who sold product that caused prisoner's death was found liable in part.

JCW Electronics, Inc. v. Garza, (Tex. 2008)
No. 05-1042 (Tex. June 27, 2008) (Opinion by Justice David Medina)
(product liability, UCC, breach of warranty claim treated as tort claim subject to tort reform limitations imposed by Texas state law)
JCW ELECTRONICS, INC. v. PEARL IRIZ GARZA, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE ESTATE OF ROLANDO DOMINGO MONTEZ, DECEASED, AND BELINDA LEIGH CAMACHO, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF ROLANDO KADRIC MONTEZ, A MINOR CHILD; from Cameron County; 13th district (13-02-00577-CV, 176 SW3d 618, 10-13-05) The Court reverses the court of appeals' judgment and renders judgment.
Justice David Medina delivered the opinion of the Court.
Chief Justice Jefferson delivered a concurring opinion, in which Justice O'Neill joined.

In this wrongful death case brought by the mother of a prison inmate found dead in his cell with a phone cord around his neck the Court overturns a jury damages award against the company that installed the phones and represented them as being safe for unsupervised use by inmates.

To reach that result, the majority had to hold that the breach of implied warranty claim under the UCC constitutes a tort claim covered by the comparative responsibility provisions of Chapter 33 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. Plaintiffs take nothing because prison inmate was found 60% negligent in causing his own death.

Interestingly, in another case involving a different set of facts, the Court recently held (in an opinion by Chief Jefferson, who agrees with the holding in JCW v. Garza in a concurring opinion) that a breach of warranty claim was a contract claim entitling the successful plaintiff to attorney's fees available for breach of a contract. See Medical City Dallas, Ltd. v. Carlisle Corp., No. 06-0660 (Tex. Apr. 11, 2008) (Jefferson) ("Because Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 38.001(8) permits an award of attorney’s fees for a suit based on a written or oral contract, and because we conclude that breach of an express warranty is such a claim, the court of appeals erred in reversing Medical City’s attorney’s fees award in connection with its successful claim for breach of an express warranty. Accordingly, we reverse in part the court of appeals' judgment and reinstate the trial court’s judgment.")

Links: Other 2008 Texas Supreme Court Opinions Texas Opinions Home Page

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