Damage amount lowered by appellate court in Valero oil refinery explosion case

By John Revak | May 21, 2018

HOUSTON – The 14th District Court of Appeals recently affirmed a remittitur judgment in a case involving an explosion at an oil refinery.

The May 8 affirmation came in the form of a supplemental majority opinion that outlined the remittitur agreed to by the parties.

The lawsuit initially came about after six workers - Richard Cuevas, Daniel Cuevas, Guadalupe Torres, Luis de los Santos, Blake Smith and Nicolas Oscar Cuevas - were injured while working on an oil refinery in Memphis, Tennessee. The refinery, owned by Valero, was undergoing routine maintenance when the explosion occurred.

As previously reported by the SE Texas Record, the workers were injured while installing a blind during this maintenance period. The area they were working near had not yet been cleaned of highly flammable material, which caught on fire and combusted. Three workers installing the blind and three others working in the area were severely burned. One worker, Nicolas Cuevas, died from the burns he received.

Justice Busby   txcourts.gov

A lawsuit was filed by the workers and their family members. The trial court ruled in their favor. The total damages received by the plaintiffs resulted in an amount of $8,466,656.07. These damages went primarily to medical expenses incurred recovering from injuries related to the explosion. The defendant, Critical Path Resources Inc., appealed the case.  

After reviewing the trial court’s judgment, the court of appeals, led by Justice Brett Busby, suggested a remittitur for the damages allocated to the victims. The court found the remittitur appropriate because they believed the evidence was not sufficient to support the jury’s award of damages for medical expenses.

“On March 29, 2018, we issued our original majority opinion in this case suggesting remittiturs for appellees Daniel Cuevas, Nicolas Cuevas and Maria Cuevas. We explained that if Daniel, Mr. Cuevas, and Mrs. Cuevas filed this remittitur within 20 days from the date of our original opinion, we would modify the trial court’s judgment accordingly,” the supplemental opinion stated.

A remittitur is issued when the court finds that the original damages amount exceeds the deprivation and harm inflicted on the plaintiffs or goes beyond the liability of the defendant.

According to the supplemental opinion, the court found the damages amount to be gratuitous considering Critical Path Resources' 6 percent liability as determined by the jury.  Total damages were reduced by a value of $1,059,342.   

The appellees were given 20 days to accept the remittitur. However, both parties found the remittitur to be satisfactory and ascended to it. The court released the supplementary opinion confirming the agreement.

“All three appellees timely accepted the suggested remittiturs. Subsequently, the parties submitted an agreed statement (without prejudice to Critical Path’s further appellate rights) regarding the amount of the modified judgment taking into account the accepted remittiturs as well as prejudgment interest,” the supplemental opinion states.

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