The first decision is in re Dawson, 550 S.W.3d 625 (Tex. 2018) (orig. proceeding). The plaintiff sued a restaurant when one of its televisions fell off the wall and landed on her. In its interrogatory answers, the restaurant identified the person who installed the television. But in its initial disclosures, the restaurant did not identify the installer as a potential party or a person who might be designated as a responsible third party.
Later—after the statute of limitations had expired on any claim by the plaintiff against the installer—the restaurant amended its disclosures to list the installer as a potentially responsible third party and then sought leave of court to designate him as a responsible third party. The trial court granted that leave.
The Texas Supreme Court granted mandamus relief and directed the trial court to vacate its order. The court noted the explicit statutory language requiring that identification of a responsible third party must occur before the expiration of limitations on a claim by the plaintiff against the person to be designated. The court concluded that the initial discovery responses failed to meet the restaurant’s obligation to give the plaintiff proper and timely notice of its intent to designate the installer as a responsible third party.
The Supreme Court revisited this issue just a few weeks ago in In re Gonzales, ___ S.W.__, 2021 WL 833058 (Tex. May 5, 2021) (orig. proceeding). There, the Supreme Court held that a trial court abused its discretion by permitting a defendant to designate an unknown person as a responsible third party. The statute governing the designation of an unknown person as a responsible third party requires that a defendant seeking to do so must file an answer with the court alleging the unknown person’s commission of a criminal act that caused the loss or injury at issue—and that this filing be made within 60 days of the defendant’s original answer. The Court held that this provision provides the exclusive method by which to designate an unknown person as a responsible third party. Because the defendant failed to file the required pleading within the 60-day period, the trial court abused its discretion by permitting the designation.
The statutes governing the designation of responsible third parties in Texas contain strict requirements and explicit time limitations. The Texas Supreme Court’s decisions make clear that Texas courts will enforce these requirements.