Austin Personal Injury Blog

The Truth About Work-Injury Coverage in Texas

Posted By The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC || 18-May-2016

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 Labor Statistics.
  • 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 Administration.

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.

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