Santiago Arias’ Struggle to Recover Benefits
Santiago Arias lives in Mexico City after stints as an undocumented worker
in Texas. In the first he lost a finger; in the second an eye; and in
the third, a
construction accident at a demolition site left him paralyzed. He fell 20 feet through a concrete
rooftop that he and others were dismantling by hand while standing on
the weakened roof itself with no safety equipment. Arias' accident
is featured in a June 2014
expose by nonprofit journalism organization The Texas Tribune about Texas worksite
safety, including the roles of workers' compensation and safety regulations.
Normally, when a construction worker is injured on the job, he or she can
file a workers' comp claim to cover costs like medical bills and lost
wages. But in Texas, this safety net is not always there because the Lone
Star State stands apart from the other 49 in not requiring private employers
to obtain workers' compensation coverage. If a Texas employer does
not carry workers' comp, it may have a private disability policy or
no work-injury benefit at all.
In Arias' case, he sued the construction contractor for negligence,
after accumulating $841,000 in medical costs. The contractor has said
that his labor is not employed by him, but made up of nonemployee subcontractors
and that they should wear safety equipment, but it was not his responsibility.
A jury issued a $21 million verdict for Arias, but the contractor had
few resources and only a tiny fraction of that money eventually made it to Arias.
The Texas Tribune reports:
- At least 500,000 Texas workers have neither workers' compensation nor
private disability insurance coverage.
- In recent years, almost half of all workers' comp claims have been
initially denied or disputed.
- Texas has the most worker fatalities of any state, citing the Bureau of
- More than half of Texas construction workers get no basic safety training;
one-fifth of construction workers get work injuries serious enough for
medical care; and only 40 percent of Texas construction employers carry
workers' comp, according to a report from the Worker's Defense
Project and University of Texas at Austin.
- Efforts to make workers' comp insurance mandatory for construction
employers stalled in Texas.
Legal Remedies for Construction Injuries Can Be Complicated
Under Texas law, when an employee works for an employer with workers'
compensation coverage, a workers' comp claim is normally the exclusive
legal remedy, meaning that an
injured worker (or the survivors in a work-related death) cannot file a personal injury
lawsuit against the employer. However, an exception is carved out that
surviving family may file a lawsuit for exemplary or punitive damages
for a work-related death if it was caused by an intentional act or omission
of the employer or by the employer's gross negligence.
If a Texas employer has a private disability insurance policy, it can still
be difficult for an injured worker to recover appropriate compensation.
Such policies are sometimes bare bones and worker claims are routinely
denied. An Austin personal injury lawyer can be extremely helpful to a
worker in this situation. Texas construction sites are normally subject
to work safety regulations of the federal Occupational Safety and Health
An employer's OSHA violation can be important evidence in a lawsuit
against the employer for negligence or gross negligence. An injured construction
worker in Texas should seek legal advice from a skilled personal injury
attorney to sort out whether to pursue workers’ comp, insurance
proceeds, or a
personal injury lawsuit.