Texas Supreme Court: Workers' Comp Sole Remedy Against Insured Employers
Employers in Texas may not split their workforces, providing workers' compensation coverage to some employees and denying it to others.
June 20, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The workers' compensation system is a tradeoff that protects both employers and employees, albeit in different ways. For employees, workers' comp means a guaranteed payout for injuries (or deaths) on the job, with no required showing of fault or negligence -- meaning that the worker gets paid regardless of who caused the injury. On the other side of the coin, employers are shielded from lawsuits and the accompanying unpredictability of jury awards. To sum workers' compensation up in a nutshell: employees give up the right to sue their employers in return for assured benefits in the event of a workplace injury.
Typically, employers carry a workers' compensation insurance policy that provides for payouts to injured workers or the families of workers who lose their lives. But are all workers covered? What about temporary or seasonal workers? Or those who are expressly denied coverage under a workers' compensation insurance policy?
In an important new opinion, the highest court in Texas has provided a resounding answer. Henceforth in the Lone Star State, employers may not split their workforces, providing workers' compensation coverage to some employees and denying it to others.
Court Strikes Down Negligence Award in Laborer Death, Instead Favoring Workers' Comp Remedies
The case Port Elevator-Brownsville v. Casados stems from the death of laborer Rafael Casados. Casados had been assigned temporary duty at a grain storage facility operated by Port Elevator-Brownsville. On his third day of work, Casados was fatally injured. Casados's parents retained a Texas wrongful death lawyer and sued Port Elevator-Brownsville as well as the staffing agency that originally hired Casados.
Port Elevator-Brownville carried a workers' compensation insurance policy, and normally, workers' compensation laws would bar an employee lawsuit for negligence against an employer. However, Port Elevator-Brownville did not pay premiums on their workers' comp policy for Casados and other temporary workers, Casados's job classification was not listed in Port Elevator-Brownville's policy, and Texas Mutual, the insurance carrier, denied coverage for Casados. Therefore, Casados's parents argued that he was not covered by workers' compensation as to his work for Port Elevator-Brownsville and their lawsuit could proceed.
A jury found Port Elevator-Brownville negligent, and awarded $515,167.09 to Casados's estate and $2,189,967.76 to Casados's parents. A court of appeals affirmed the jury verdict.
Had Port Elevator-Brownville been found grossly negligent -- which entails a higher degree of carelessness than mere negligence -- the jury award very well could have remained intact. In Texas, personal injury claims based on gross negligence are not barred by the exclusive remedy rule of workers' compensation. However, as the Casados's case was a claim of standard negligence against an employer for a workplace injury, the Supreme Court of Texas ultimately struck down the jury award.
In a unanimous opinion, the justices of the Supreme Court declared that Texas employers who take advantage of workers' compensation protections cannot do so halfheartedly; it's all or nothing. Unlike other states, in Texas, private employers may choose whether or not to subscribe to the workers' compensation insurance system. But, if employers do so subscribe, they cannot split their workforce, electing coverage for some employees but not others.
Thus, Casados's parents could not maintain a suit for negligence against Port Elevator-Brownville. Instead, their sole remedy is against Texas Mutual, Port Elevator-Brownville's workers' compensation insurance carrier.
What Does the Ruling Mean For Texans?
While for the parents of Rafael Casados, Port Elevator-Brownsville v. Casados likely means a lower financial award, generally speaking, most Texas workplace accident injury attorneys agree that the Supreme Court's decision is a good thing for workers. The ruling will assure workers' compensation coverage for a broader range of Texas workers. Especially for those who suffer on the job injury under circumstances that are not conducive to a finding of employer negligence.
Even though Port Elevator-Brownsville v. Casados is good for workers, it does not necessarily come at the expense of employers. On the contrary, many experts applaud the case for clearing up any ambiguity about employers' responsibility to secure workers' compensation insurance coverage for all, not just some, of their employees. Furthermore, it means that employers with workers' comp insurance coverage will be unequivocally shielded against large verdicts like the one originally levied against Port Elevator-Brownsville.
However, one group may be frowning at the Port Elevator-Brownsville v. Casados ruling: workers' comp insurance carriers. The case seems to indicate that insurers are on the hook for workplace injuries even if an employer failed to properly list an injured worker's job classification in their comp policy and pay associated premiums.
When a workplace injury strikes, it can leave families desperately in need of a steady stream of income. If you have been injured on the job, or if a family member has been killed, contact a Texas attorney today to learn more about your right to compensation.
Article provided by The Law Firm of Alton C. Todd
Visit us at www.altontodd.com
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