Justices agree landowners not responsible for roaming bull

David Yates Feb. 10, 2010, 6:12am

Last Thursday justices on Texas' Ninth District Court of Appeals affirmed a local judge's ruling to dismiss a suit over a stray bull against several prominent landowners.

On the night of July 5, 2002, LaShonda Rose, who was traveling with three minor passengers, struck a black bull in the roadway while driving along State Highway 87.

Five years later, Rose, acting as next of friend for her passengers, sued several businesses and individuals, alleging that the bull had escaped from their property.

According to the suit filed in Jefferson County, the minors claimed that the landowners negligently permitted the bull to roam at large and negligently failed to ensure that the gates on the premises were locked and fitted with cattle guards.

Shortly after answering the minors' suit, defendants Labelle Properties Ltd., Labelle General LLC, Ben C. Hebert Heirs, Hebert-Green LLP, C. Doornbos Inc., C. Doornbos Heirs and the William & Opal Doornbos Trust filed no-evidence motions for summary judgment.

Each of the landowners' respective motions asserted that there was no evidence they owed a duty to the minors and that there was no evidence showing their acts caused the minors' injuries, court papers say.

On Nov. 24, 2008, Judge Milton Shuffield of the Jefferson County 136th Judicial District granted the defendants' no evidence summary judgment motions, leading the plaintiffs to appeal.

"After a careful review of the Landowners' motions for summary judgments and a thorough examination of the Minors' responses to these motions, we agree with the trial court that the Minors failed to meet their burden of producing evidence to show that the Landowners breached (Texas Agriculture Code)," states an opinion authored by Justice Hollis Horton.

"We hold the trial court, on this record, properly granted the Landowners' motions for summary judgment. Consequently, we affirm the trial court's orders."

At the time of the collision, the pasture from which the bull allegedly escaped was leased to H.C. Youmans. The landowners did not own the bull, court papers say.

On appeal, the minors asserted Judge Shuffield erred in granting the landowners' motions for summary judgment, arguing that court erred in finding the defendants owed the minors no duty, states an appeals brief.

In response to the minors' appellate arguments, the defendants asserted they were not responsible to control a bull they did not own and argued that they did not knowingly permit the bull to roam free.

Justices agreed, finding that "a person (only) commits an offense if the person knowingly permits a head of cattle to run at large in a county," the opinion states.

"There is no evidence that the Landowners authorized either Youmans or Gilfillian the right to run cattle at large. There is also no evidence that the Landowners had been notified of the bull's escape prior to the collision, and there is no evidence that the Landowners were aware that any cattle had previously escaped from the pastures they leased. Finally, there is no evidence that the pasture's fence and its gate were not fit for the ordinary uses for which they were intended."

One of the minors, who was 22 months old at the time of the collision, suffered catastrophic injuries. The plaintiffs' summary judgment evidence includes a Life Care Cost Analysis projecting that the minor will incur lifetime medical expenses in excess of $15 million.

The plaintiffs were represented in part by Houston attorney John Kim, and attorney Michael D. Myers.

Hebert-Green was represented by attorney Noel Anne Lewandos.

Doornbos Inc. was represented by attorneys Mark Allen and Joseph E. Stowers.

Labelle Properties was represented by attorneys John R. Shepperd and Marjorie Cohen

Trial case No. D180-417
Appeals case No. 09-09-00055-CV

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