In the recent case West Star Transportation Inc. v. Robison, a Texas appellate court considered a personal injury case in which the defendant appealed a judgment for the plaintiffs for damages totaling more than $5 million. The plaintiff had suffered a traumatic head injury after falling headfirst from a flatbed trailer that he was trying to cover in the shipping yard of the defendant, a company that was his employer. The defendant was a nonsubscriber under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act.
The load was an uneven load that included crates of different heights, and it was 13 feet off the ground at its highest point. The defendant didn’t own the equipment needed to complete the task. A tarpaulin that weighed 150 pounds had to be placed at the highest point using a forklift. The plaintiff was also lifted to that point. The reason for the fall was unclear, but he fell while he was standing on the surface of a load, and because of the fall he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
The plaintiff and his wife sued, alleging that the defendant was negligent for failing to give the plaintiff a reasonably safe workplace. The plaintiffs offered to settle their claims to the limits of the defendant’s insurance policy via letters. The defendant tried to accept the settlement offer orally and via letter after the deadline passed. The plaintiffs believed the deadline had passed and rejected the offer in the letter. The defendant filed an amended answer and counterclaim, alleging that the case was settled.
The plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment on the counterclaim, alleging there was no meeting of the minds. After a series of procedural maneuvers, the court severed the settlement claim from the personal injury case, even though the settlement agreement didn’t comply with state rules. Summary judgment in the settlement claim was granted for the plaintiffs. At the personal injury trial, the parties stipulated as to the amount of the plaintiff’s medical expenses. After five days of testimony, the trial court submitted the issue of liability, asking whether the defendant’s negligence proximately caused the accident. The jury answered yes.
The jury found for the plaintiffs, and the court awarded the employee $4,898,590.78 and awarded $400,000 to the wife for loss of consortium. The defendant appealed, arguing among other things that the plaintiffs were asserting many distinct theories of liability and that the evidence was legally insufficient with regard to the theories of failure to use fall protection, failure to require a pre-planning meeting, and failure to implement a policy to refuse to tarp oversized loads.
The appellate court explained that these were not distinct theories of liability. The sole theory was that West Star was negligent in failing to provide a safe workplace. The court explained that as a workers’ compensation nonsubscriber, the defendant could not assert contributory negligence, negligence of a fellow servant, or assumption of risk. All the plaintiffs had to allege and prove was negligence, a causal connection between the defendant’s actions and the injury-producing event, and a causal connection between the event and the plaintiffs’ injuries. Proximate cause in Texas is determined by looking at both cause-in-fact and foreseeability. When a defendant’s actions are a substantial factor in causing an accident and injuries, and the event was a foreseeable occurrence without which there wouldn’t have been an accident and injuries, liability is established. In this case, the court found the evidence was legally sufficient to show the defendant’s negligence.
Work injuries can be devastating. If you or your loved one suffers a traumatic brain injury, and your employer is a nonsubscriber under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, the experienced San Antonio work injury attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help you recover from the person or entity responsible. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.