Judge urges changes to Worker’s Compensation Act after ruling

| Jul 12, 2020 | workers' compensation

In 2012, Fabian Escobedo fell asleep at the wheel of his semi-truck. The truck veered off the road and flipped over, resulting in Escobedo’s death. Escobedo’s surviving family, his parents and sister, received compensation through Fabian’s worker’s compensation policy, but sued trucking company Mo-Vac for additional damages. The family claimed that Mo-Vac pushed Escobedo to exhaustion, causing the crash. In June 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mo-Vac, but with reservations.

Justice Eva Guzman, who ruled in favor of Mo-Vac, later urged Texas lawmakers to re-examine the Worker’s Compensation Act. Why would a judge argue against their ruling?

The history of the Worker’s Compensation Act

Lawmakers drafted the Texas Worker’s Compensation Act in 1913. The act established that a company’s worker’s compensation policy was the exclusive remedy for employees and their beneficiaries for work-related injury or death. A 1916 clarification allows families to pursue additional action if the company “intended” to cause an employee harm. In brief, unless a company intends to hurt an employee with a negligent action, that employee’s only financial recourse lies with the worker’s compensation policy.

The Escobedo ruling

The Supreme Court cited this clause when ruling against rewarding additional damages to the Escobedo family. Since Mo-Vac’s negligence did not stem from an “intent” to harm, the judges ruled that “being overworked in an unsafe environment” did not meet the requirement. Justice Eva Guzman expressed dissatisfaction with the law, saying that, “Employers who intentionally, willfully, and repeatedly ignore, thwart, and evade workplace laws should not escape responsibility[.]”

Guzman also took issue with another Worker’s Compensation Act clause that stipulates only a surviving spouse or child can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. Even if Mo-Vac had intended to harm Escobedo, the court must dismiss the family’s lawsuit, since he was only survived by his parents and sister. Guzman said, “By treating some employees as more expendable than others… public safety is imperiled.”

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