Notice of Claim Provisions Bar Jurist’s Asbestos Claims Against Municipality

TEXAS — Judge James Farris spent almost his entire legal career, until retiring in December of 1996, in the Jefferson County courthouse, which included a period of asbestos remediation at the courthouse, during which he was allegedly exposed to asbestos. Judge Farris developed mesothelioma in October of 2004 and tragically passed away just nine days after he first sought medical treatment. Judge Farris’s widow, Ellarene Farris, asserted wrongful death and survival causes of action against numerous entities, including Jefferson County, in its capacities as premises owner and employers. The county challenged jurisdiction based on the 6 month notice of claim provisions applicable to it as a governmental entity. While the estate provided notice within 6 months from the date of Judge Farris’s death, the Appellate Court ruled that the notice was untimely as it should have been provided within 6 months of Judge Farris’s retirement in 1996. The estate contended that the death of Judge Farris was an incident necessary to the wrongful-death claim. However, the court held that the wrongful death claim was derivative of the personal injury claim, which was also bared by the 6 month notice requirement. Justice Terry Jennings, delivered a dissenting opinion arguing that “[s]tunningly, the majority holds that the claims asserted by Ellarene are barred by governmental immunity because she did not provide notice of them to Jefferson County within six months of Judge Farris’s final exposure to asbestos in December 1996 — before the existence of any injury or damage.”

Read the full case decision here.