A state appeals court has OK’d a jury award of $5.3 million to a worker who suffered traumatic brain injury from a fall on the job. Why didn’t workers’ comp cover this case?
Answer: The incident happened in Texas, the only state where workers’ comp is optional for employers. The employee was able to sue his employer and win because the company opted out of workers’ comp (about 33% of eligible Texas companies do). Here’s what happened:
On April 23, 2007, Charles Robison was helping to cover a load on a flatbed trailer in the shipyard of West Star Transportation.
The flatbed load was uneven, containing both uncrated equipment and pallets of differing heights. The load was 13 feet tall at its highest point.
As West Star, having to cover a load that tall was unusual. The company didn’t have the equipment necessary to complete the task. It had to borrow a forklift from a neighboring business to lift a 150-pound tarp to the top of the load.
Robison was also lifted to the top of the load by standing on a pallet being raised by the forklift. He fell while standing on the load, manipulating the tarp without safety equipment or assistance. As a result, he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Robison and his wife sued West Star, saying the company was “negligent in failing to provide a reasonably safe place to work.” They offered to settle for the remaining limits of West Star’s insurance policy. However, the company didn’t reply to the offer in writing. Its lawyer called the Robisons’ attorney in an attempt to verbally accept the settlement. However, Texas state law requires that agreements “be in writing, signed and filed with the papers as part of the record.”
West Star missed the deadline for accepting the settlement in writing.
When the case went to trial, a jury found West Star’s negligence was a proximate cause of the incident and Robison’s injuries. For damages, the jury awarded:
- $300,000 for past physical pain and mental anguish
- $700,000 for future physical pain and mental anguish
- $168,540 for past loss of earning capacity
- $243,184 for future loss of earning capacity
- $5,000 for past physical impairment
- $378,718 for past medical care
- $3,337,857 for future medical care, and
- $400,000 to his wife for loss of consortium.
The final judgment credited West Star for benefits its insurer had already paid and awarded actual damages of just under $5.3 million.
A Texas appeals court recently affirmed the jury verdict and award amount.
(West Star Transportation Inc. v. Charles and Cherie Robison, Court of Appeals, Seventh District of Texas, No. 07-13-00109-CV, 1/23/15)