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A Texas appellate court has affirmed a $5.3 million liability judgment against a Texas workers compensation nonsubscriber that was deemed negligent in the case of an injured employee.
In West Star Transportation Inc. v. Charles Robison et al., Mr. Robison suffered a traumatic brain injury while working for Lubbock, Texas-based West Star in April 2007 after falling headfirst from an unevenly loaded flatbed trailer, court records show. West Star was a Texas nonsubscriber and did not carry workers comp insurance at the time of Mr. Robison's accident.
Mr. Robison and his wife, Cherie, filed a liability lawsuit against West Star in January 2009 seeking damages related to Mr. Robison's fall. They argued in court documents that West Star was “negligent in failing to provide a reasonably safe place to work.”
After a series of legal proceedings that included a failed settlement agreement, the Robisons' case proceeded to jury trial in a Lubbock court, records show. The jury found that Mr. Robison's injuries were caused by West Star's negligence and awarded $5.3 million in damages to Mr. and Ms. Robison.
Court documents show the judgment included $3.7 million for Mr. Robison's past and future medical care, $1 million for Mr. Robison's past and future physical pain and mental anguish and $400,000 for Ms. Robison's past and future loss of consortium, as well as additional payments for Mr. Robison's loss of earning capacity and physical impairment.
West Star appealed, contending in court filings that the negligence verdict was improper because the jury was presented with a definition of negligence that was too broad, among other arguments. Additionally, the company said evidence in the case was legally and factually insufficient to support the jury's conclusion that Mr. Robison's injuries were caused by West Star's negligence.
However, a three-judge panel of the Texas 7th District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the jury's decision on Friday. In its opinion, the appellate court said that the only defense that West Star had in Mr. Robison's case was to show that it was not guilty of negligence that caused Mr. Robison's injuries, or that Mr. Robison was guilty of an act that was the sole cause of his accident.
The court found that evidence in the case was sufficient to show that West Star was negligent, and said West Star “created an unusually precarious work environment and an unreasonable risk of harm to its employees — a risk that proved to be true when (Mr. Robison) fell and was injured.”
Mr. Robison “was performing a task that was unusually precarious and not of the same character of work that he customarily performed, and he was doing so without any special supervision or safety equipment,” the ruling reads. “In fact, West Star did not even own the equipment necessary to safely perform the task at hand, choosing instead to borrow a forklift from another business in order to have a means of raising a 150-pound tarpaulin to the top of a load reaching (13) feet in height.”
The appellate court also ruled that evidence in the case was sufficient to support the jury's $5.3 million award to Mr. and Ms. Robison.
Medical costs for injured workers treated by Texas workers compensation health care networks have declined 7% over the last five years while costs for workers treated by non-network providers have increased 21% in that time, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.