Wright Close & Barger Wins Reversal of $250 Million Judgment in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Firm News

Wright Close & Barger has secured the reversal of a more than $250 million judgment against a Texas company accused in the death of a Kansas power plant worker.

The First Court of Appeals on May 16 reversed a Fort Bend County court’s judgment in the wrongful death lawsuit against Team Industrial Services Inc. It was accused of failing to service properly a relief valve that caused the 2018 burn death of plant worker Jesse Henson.

In 2021, a Fort Bend County jury awarded $222 million to Mr. Henson’s family and his wife, Kelli Most. The judgment now stands at well over $250 million.

Firm partners Russ HollenbeckBrian Cathey, and Michael Adams-Hurta represented Team Industrial Services on appeal. They argued that the lawsuit should not have been filed in a Texas court but should have been filed and heard in Kansas, where the accident occurred and where Mr. Henson lived.

The appeals court agreed.

In its opinion, the panel found that holding the trial in Texas meant Team could not subpoena fact witnesses in Kansas, leaving it “to rely almost exclusively on deposition testimony to defend itself, which placed it an un unnecessary disadvantage.”

“Requiring parties to litigate a case in Texas when evidence and fact witnesses are beyond the reach of compulsory process is a waste of private and public resources,” the court said.

The court also held that damages awarded in the case were not supported by the evidence and were influenced by improper jury argument by plaintiff’s counsel.

“These improper arguments left the jury with no sound guidance for deciding the amount of compensation to award Most for mental anguish and loss of companionship.”

The case is Team Industrial Services Inc. v. Kelli Most, case number 1-22-00313-CV, in the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas.

To read Law360’s coverage of the case, click here.