San Antonio employees of subcontractors, even if the landowner is the general contractor, may not be able to sue for injuries caused by the negligence of the landowner. The Texas Supreme Court decided last week that premises owners who pay their subcontractors’ workers’ compensation premiums are entitled to immunity from common law suits. The Court determined that the Workers’ Compensation Act “exclusive-remedy” defense can be used against their subcontractors’ injured employees. Three Justices, including the Chief Justice, joined in a dissenting opinion, pointing out the problems created by the majority interpretation.
Effectively, refineries and industrial plants will be able to shield themselves from liability for injuries caused to workers at plant sites. This shield will prohibit workers from bringing lawsuits for injuries and death caused by unsafe work sites. This Texas law will allow companies to decide whether to provide a safe work place or whether to just provide Workers Compensation Insurance. By providing the workers compensation insurance to all workers, both employees and subcontractor employees, an employer cannot be sued for its own negligence. Workers compensation insurance provides only the most basic coverage to seriously injured victims of work site safety failures: a small portion of the worker’s wages, together with some medical benefits. An injured worker is not entitled to compensation for losses such as disfigurement, future impairment to wage earning ability, and other measures of compensation that Texas law allows to be recovered in most common law negligence lawsuits. Therefore, an employer can just weigh the cost of work site safety improvements and compare it to the cost of the Workers Compensation Insurance – and while the company saves money, the worker is short-changed.
Many members of the Texas Legislature voiced opposition to granting the blanket immunity to industrial plants and refineries. We hope that the Legislature will take the necessary steps to fix this injustice.