Cont’l So. Lines, Inc. v. Hilland – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In Cont'l So. Lines, Inc. v. Hilland, 528 S.W.2d 828 (Tex. 1975), Hilland purchased a bus ticket in Houston, Texas, bearing the name Continental Trailways, went to a bus station with the same name, and boarded a bus also marked Continental Trailways. Id. at 829.

The side of the bus contained one-inch lettering conveying the information that the bus was owned by "Continental Southern Lines, Inc.," but Hilland did not see this lettering. Id.

Hilland was injured while stepping off this bus. Id.

She brought suit within the statute of limitations against Continental Trailways, Inc., a Texas corporation (Texas). Id.

Texas was a different corporation with different officers and directors from Continental Southern Lines, Inc., the Louisiana corporation (Louisiana) who owned the bus. Id.

Continental Trailways was merely a trade name used by a number of separate bus corporations, and Louisiana was listed on Hilland's ticket as one of twenty-six corporations all doing business as "Continental Trailways, Dallas, Texas." Id.

Texas was not one of those corporations. In fact, it had no equipment, buses, or terminals, transported no passengers, and its sole purpose was to preserve the trade name. Id.

Upon discovering these facts after the statute of limitations had run, Hilland amended her petition to add Louisiana. Louisiana asserted the statute of limitations defense based upon the general rule that a suit must be 'commenced and prosecuted' against a party to be held liable within two years from the date of the act which causes the injury. And generally, the institution of suit against one corporation will not interrupt the running of the limitation period as to a different corporation or entity. Stokes v. Beaumont, Sour Lake & W. Ry., 161 Tex. 240, 339 S.W.2d 877 (Tex. 1960). (Id. at 829.)

The Hilland court concluded that the bus companies "made a conscious effort to make it appear to the public and to their customers" that they were Continental Trailways. Id. at 830.

Given the confusion, the court wrote:

The primary purpose of a statute of limitations is to compel the exercise of a right within a reasonable time so that the opposite party has a fair opportunity to defend while witnesses are available and the evidence is fresh in their minds. While the plaintiff made a mistake in her original petition as to the defendant that should have been sued, it is our opinion that she should be given, under the circumstances here present, an opportunity to prove that Louisiana, was cognizant of the facts, was not misled, or placed at a disadvantage in obtaining relevant evidence to defend the suit. (Id. at 831.)

It also recited that the driver of the bus filled out an accident report with Louisiana, and the two corporations had the same agent for service, the same attorneys in the area, and some indication that service of citation was forwarded to Louisiana, all facts relating to the suggestion of notice. (Id. at 830-31.)

With these facts in mind, the court remanded the case in order to allow the trial court to determine whether Louisiana was put on notice of Hilland's claims within the limitations period in spite of the misidentification.