Apr 26, 2017 Last Updated 6:14 PM, Jun 22, 2016

Employee Loses Hand; Files Lawsuit

Published in GODSEYMARTIN.COM

In the case of In re Essex Insurance Company, a worker lost his hand while operating a tortilla machine at his place of business. He filed suit against both the business and their insurance company, seeking to recover damages for his injuries. The insurer defended the action by stating that the man was an employee at the time of the injury, and thus the commercial liability policy that covered the business did not apply to his injury. The man maintained that he was an independent contractor and not an employee.

Work Place Injury

This is an important distinction that can come up in any case in which someone is injured while performing work, including truck wrecks and other personal injury actions. If the person is hurt in the course and scope of their employment, they are limited to resolutions available under the workers' compensation laws.

In such cases, the damages that the claimant receives are much lower than if they were allowed to sue under negligence laws. In cases where there is not a traditional "employer-employee" relationship, the injured person can proceed under a theory of negligence.

The tradeoff is that, in negligence cases, the claimant must prove that the employer did not adhere to the standard of care owed to them, but in workers' compensation cases, an employee can recover damages without a finding of fault by the employer, as long as the accident happened while on the job.

What Happened in the Lower Courts

In the above mentioned case, the insurance company moved for dismissal of the worker's declaratory judgment action seeking to make the insurer indemnify the company should it be found liable to the worker. The trial court denied the insurer's motion, and the court of appeals denied its petition for a writ of mandamus.

On appeal to the Supreme Court of Texas, the court reversed the decision as they relied on the general rule that an injured person does not have the right to directly sue a defendant's insurance company until the courts decide (or the parties agree) that the defendant is actually liable to the claimant. The court found no exception to this general policy of "no direct action" and thus conditionally granted the insurer's request for mandamus. In so holding, the court reasoned that allowing the worker to simultaneously pursue a negligence action against the business where he was hurt and a declaratory judgment against the business's insurer concerning coverage of the liability claim would create a conflict of interest for the insurance company. This would then require an admission of evidence of liability insurance in violation of Texas Rules of Evidence 411.

Knowing Your Rights

This case is the perfect example of how complicated a seemingly straightforward case can be. Businesses and insurance companies will fight tooth and nail to avoid liability and to minimize the amount of damages they have to pay out. Therefore, it is wise that to have an experienced, aggressive attorney on your side if you have suffered a workplace injury.

If you've been hurt while on the job, call the legal team at Godsey Martin. Call 877-GOTHIT to schedule your free initial consultation.

Brian Mincher

“I have tried over 100 jury trials in my 15+ year career, spending over a decade defending cases for insurance companies, so I know their tricks better than most. In my spare time, I enjoy physical fitness and the outdoors in all its forms - from boating and hiking to hunting and fishing. I have been a competitive marksman in several different disciplines since childhood. I’ve also been a state record holder in Oklahoma in power lifting and was the three time Oklahoma Karate Association divisional champion back in the 1990’s during my college years. I am married and have 3 children.”

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