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Mobil Chemical Co. v. Bell

517 S.W.2d 245 (1974)

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Mobil Chemical Co. v. Bell

Supreme Court of Texas

517 S.W.2d 245 (1974)

Facts

Edward Bell and J.A. Hurley (plaintiffs) worked for an independent contractor hired by Mobil Chemical Co. (defendant) to construct a chemical plant. The contractor completed part of the plant and turned it over to Mobil while constructing the next phase. Mobil inspected and accepted the completed equipment only after extensive tests. Two weeks later, a pressure surge blew a release valve designed to prevent excessive pressure in the equipment. Mobil’s maintenance personnel replaced parts of the valve and continued placing it in service. The release valve failed the next day, causing a ruptured pipe and a 30-foot geyser of acid. Bell and Hurley suffered acid-vapor inhalation injuries and sued Mobil for negligence. At trial, Mobil’s chemical engineer testified that the pipe failed because it was defectively or improperly manufactured or installed. Although the jury did not find any specific negligent act, the jury nonetheless answered res ipsa loquitur questions finding that Mobil must have been negligent under the circumstances. Mobil appealed, arguing that the court should not have submitted the res ipsa theory to the jury, and that the testimony of its own expert refuted the circumstantial inference of negligence. The appellate court reversed, prompting a further appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (McGee, J.)

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