Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Veil-Piercing Success Rate

Corporation and other limited liability business entities are often formed for the purpose of insulating the business's owners from liability. 

For example, a corporation engaged in a business that involves a high risk of liability, such as hauling toxic waste, might choose to operate the high-risk business through a wholly-owned subsidiary.  If the toxic waste spilled, injuring numerous people, the corporation would expect that only the subsidiary would be subject to potential liability for the spill and that the parent corporation's other assets would be free from claims by the injured parties.

An exception to the general rule of limited liability are in cases where the injured party successfully "pierces the corporate veil" thereby making the corporation's owners liable for the debts of the corporation.  Veil-piercing generally applies only in unusual cases, such as when the corporation's corporate structure is designed or used in a fraudulent way. 

Section 21.223 of the Texas Business Organizations Code provides that the owners of a Texas corporation cannot be liable for either (1) the corporation's contractual obligations on the basis of claims that the owner as the alter ego of the corporation or on the basis of actual or constructive fraud, a sham to perpetrate a fraud, or other similar theory, unless the corporation is used for the purpose of perpetrating an actual fraud on the obligee primarily for the direct personal benefit of the owner, or (2) any obligation of the corporation on the basis of failure to follow corporate formalities.

Although veil-piercing is the exception rather than the rule, an article in The Business Lawyer (November 2011 - citing a report published in 2009) noted that 23.5% of reported appellate decisions in Texas involving parent-subsidiary piercing claims were successful.  That high percentage of success probably reflects the fact that only the strongest veil-piercing claims are pursued all the way through  to appellate courts.     

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