The Texas Supreme Court recently upheld the exclusive remedy doctrine by declaring that injured workers cannot sue insurance companies for egregious bad faith practices. This latest ruling not only reaffirms an earlier 1989 case; it also substantially extended the prior law, so victims no longer have any legal recourse even if the insurance company is guilty of malicious prosecution and misrepresentation. In Re Crawford stemmed from an Amarillo smelter explosion in 1998. The victim in this case suffered second- and third-degree burns on his neck, face, upper body, arms, and legs. His left arm was amputated and his right arm was permanently disfigured. As part of his ongoing rehabilitation, the man exercised for a couple of hours a day at a local gym. Investigators noticed that there were no electronic records of his attendance, so the state prosecuted him for workers’ compensation fraud. Gym personnel later testified that the man was unable to remove the swipe card from his wallet, so they opened the door for him. In a subsequent lawsuit, the man claimed that the company continually denied him benefits, in addition to prosecuting him maliciously. In a unanimous, unsigned opinion, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that “that the Division of Workers’ Compensation has exclusive jurisdiction over the [family’s] claims and the Workers’ Compensation Act provides their exclusive remedies.” In other words, injured workers can almost never pursue a tort action in civil court to obtain compensation for their non-economic injuries. Workers’ Compensation System These laws first appeared at the turn of the 20th century in the industrial Midwest. In exchange for no-fault insurance to cover workplace injuries, employees agreed to give up their right to sue in court for damages. But, mainly because of recent reforms that have chiseled away at benefits, there is some indication that this so-called “grand bargain” may be breaking down. If you were injured on the job, it is more important than ever to partner with an experienced lawyer, because the insurance company has the legal tools, and the financial incentive, to deny your claim. Workers’ compensation insurance in Texas still provides cash benefits for injuries due to:
- Trauma incident, such as a slip-and-fall, or an
- Occupational disease, including back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome
It is important to talk to an attorney and file your claim right away, or you may lose entitlement to your benefits. To get your piece of the shrinking workers’ compensation pie, contact an experienced New Braunfels workplace injury attorney for a free consultation. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.