• Texas Appellate Court Affirms Verdict for Injured Worker at Meat-Packing Plant
  • June 13, 2014
  • Law Firm: Sutherland Asbill Brennan LLP - Washington Office
  • On appeal of a jury verdict in favor of an injured worker at a food manufacturing plant, the Court of Appeals of Texas affirmed the verdict. The worker’s arm was crushed after becoming stuck in a conveyor belt he attempted to clean when the belt accidentally engaged. The worker accused the owner of the meat-packing plant of negligence in failing to have a delayed start signal before the belt energized and for failure to properly train him on lock-out procedures. A Texas jury returned a verdict in favor of the worker and the defendant appealed.

    The appeal centered on the alleged improper admission of testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness. The defendant alleged that the plaintiff’s expert’s inactive engineering license precluded him from offering expert testimony under Texas law because the Texas Occupational Code prevents an individual without a valid and active engineering license from providing expert engineering opinion or testimony. The court rejected this argument, finding that a trained engineer holding an inactive license was not prohibited from testifying during a trial, and that the Texas Rules of Evidence governing experts do not contain a requirement that an expert have a license to testify as long as the individual is otherwise qualified under Rule 702. The court rejected the defendant’s other arguments that the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified and that the expert only offered non-expert testimony.

    The court also examined an alleged improper statement by the plaintiff’s counsel about the defendant in closing argument: “This is a company - [] is a huge company. They are responsible for processing food that you eat, that we all eat, that our society eats. They won’t even follow the OSHA regulations. What do you think they’re doing out there on the regulations regarding the safety of food?... How do you think they feel about your safety?” The defendant, however, did not object to the statement during trial and only complained of it via a motion for a new trial after the fact, which meant the Court of Appeals would have to find the error incurable on appeal. The Court of Appeals acknowledged that the argument was “improper,” but did not find it so inflammatory that the statement could not have been cured by timely and proper instructions from the trial court.