Texas Supreme Court Orders and Opinions (2/13/15)

Posted by Rich PhillipsToday, the Supreme Court of Texas issued opinions in two argued cases. The Court did not grant any new petitions or set any mandamus petitions for argument. Access the full order list here.In No. 13-0136, Nabors Well Services, Ltd. v. Romero, the Court held that evidence that the plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt should not be automatically excluded in car-accident cases, overruling Carnation Co. v. Wong, 516 S.W.2d 116 (Tex. 1974). In a unanimous opinion by Justice Brown, the Court reasoned that the rationale for the Carnation rule no longer holds because (1) Texas now has a comparative-negligence system rather than the contributory-negligence system in effect when Carnation was decided and (2) seat belt use is now required by law and much more common than when Carnation was decided. The Court also noted that in 2003, the legislature repealed a statute that had codified the Carnation rule. The Court concluded that these changes made the Carnation rule an “anachronism.”In No. 13-0670, In re Deepwater Horizon, the Court answered certified questions from the Fifth Circuit regarding insurance coverage for the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The Fifth Circuit certified questions related to BP’s right to insurance coverage as an additional insured under Transocean’s insurance policy. The issue arose from the interplay between the additional-insured provisions of the contract between BP and Transocean and the provisions of the insurance policy. The Court (in an opinion by Justice Guzman) held that (1) the terms of the insurance policy required resort to the additional-insured provisions of the drilling contract to determine coverage; (2) under the terms of the drilling contract, whether BP could be an additional insured was “inextricably intertwined with limitations on the extent of coverage to be afforded under the Transocean policies”; (3) under the drilling contract, BP’s status as an additional insured is unambiguously limited to those liabilities that Transocean assumed under the drilling contract; and (4) under the drilling contract, BP assumed liabilities for damages arising from subsurface pollution. The Court therefore concluded that BP was not entitled to coverage under Transocean’s policies. Justice Johnson filed a dissent. He disagreed with the majority’s conclusion that the extent of BP’s entitlement to coverage was controlled by the language of the drilling contract. He would have held that the additional-insured provisions of the policy were broad enough to cover BP.