The Texas Court of Appeals recently found an employer liable for an employee’s injuries due to its failure to maintain workers compensation insurance. As a result, the employer was required to pay the injured employee the amount of $310,607.48 for injuries sustained from a forklift accident on the job site.
In JC General Contractors v. Chavez, Teodoro Chavez worked as a laborer on a construction site for J.C. General Contractors in May 2006. Equipment for the site included a forklift with a basket attached that was used to lift workers to higher parts of the structure. On the day of the accident, the construction superintendent told Chavez to get into the basket to be listed up to take measurements. Chavez was unable to secure the basket, which was attached to the forklift by chains, because the superintendent had forgotten the key to the chain locks. While Chavez was wearing a safety harness, it was attached to the basket, not the forklift. When the basket was raised to a height between 10 and 20 feet, it fell forward and as a result, Chavez suffered a broken collarbone, bruised lungs, internal bleeding in his liver, two fractured ribs, a broken wrist that required surgery, a fractured skull, and a traumatic brain injury that resulted in memory loss and other mental issues.
Because J.C. General Contractors did not have workers compensation insurance, Chavez was not barred from filing a lawsuit. At trial, it was established that the forklift was not designed to lift laborers. However, J.C. General Contractors argued that Chavez was responsible for the accident due to his taking cocaine earlier that day. One of his coworkers testified that he saw Chavez snorting cocaine that morning, and that he was acting hyper, jumping up and down in the basket right before it fell. A blood test confirmed that Chavez tested positive for cocaine, and Chavez admitted to using it, but claimed he had done so four days prior. The trial concluded with the jury determining that Chavez’s intoxication was not the cause of the injury, but rather the superintendent’s misuse of the forklift. The jury awarded $100,000 for physical pain and mental anguish sustained in the past and to be sustained in the future, more than $135,000 for medical care, $50,000 for physical impairment, and $25,000 for lost earning capacity. J.C. General Contractors appealed.