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Worker status questions remain in garbage truck injury case

garbage truck Waste Management

A Texas appeals court held that questions remain over whether a worker’s negligence claims were barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers Compensation Act.

In Stevenson v. Waste Management of Texas Inc., a three-member panel of the Texas Court of Appeals, 14th District, in Houston on Thursday unanimously reversed and remanded a trial court’s decision that a worker hired by a temporary employment survivor could not proceed with his negligence claims after he was run over by a garbage truck.

In May 2014, Robert Stevenson was working on a garbage truck owned by Waste Management of Texas Inc., based in Houston, but as an employee of Taylor Smith Consulting LLC, a temporary labor supplier. The driver of the garbage truck allegedly backed up the vehicle over Mr. Stevenson’s right foot and leg, causing severe injuries.

Mr. Stevenson sued Waste Management and the driver, alleging claims of negligence as well as negligent hiring, training and supervising of the employee driving the truck that caused his injuries.

Waste Management and the employee moved to dismiss his claims on the grounds that the exclusive remedy provision of the Texas Workers Compensation Act barred his claims, arguing that Mr. Stevenson was an employee of Waste Management at the time of his injury and covered by its workers comp insurance. A trial court granted the motion and dismissed Mr. Stevenson’s claims.

On appeal, Mr. Stevenson argued that the trial court erred in holding that there was no question of material fact as to whether he was an employee of Waste Management or that Waste Management exercised control over the details of his work at the time of the incident.

The appeals court reversed and remanded the decision, noting that the master agreement between Taylor Smith Consulting and Waste Management stated that the consulting firm was “solely responsible for performing all hiring, firing, discipline, training” and other responsibilities to discharge Waste Management’s legal obligations as the employer of the personnel supplied by Taylor Smith. The agreement also stated that Taylor Smith would be solely responsible for all payments to its personnel, including wages, salaries, benefits, “federal, state and local payroll taxes, and all Workers' Compensation insurance coverage and payments.”

Waste Management argued that Taylor Smith personnel were independent contractors for certain duties, but employees of Waste Management for the purposes of the act’s exclusive remedy provision under the master agreement since it controlled his work.

The appeals court, however, disagreed, holding that the master agreement “expressly” states that Mr. Stevenson was an independent contractor, not a Waste Management employee, but said questions remain as to whether Waste Management had the right to control the details of Mr. Stevenson’s work.

The court, therefore, held that genuine facts remain as to whether Stevenson was an employee of Waste Management at the time of the accident and reversed and remanded the case.

Waste Management declined to comment. Mr. Stevenson’s attorney did not immediately respond to calls for comment.







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