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Injured contract worker is employee and can’t sue: Court

Posted On: May. 3, 2021 12:28 PM CST

garbage truck

A contract worker with a temporary staffing agency can’t sue an agency client over his injury because he is considered an employee and therefore the exclusive remedy provision of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act applies, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Robert Stevenson was hired by Taylor Smith Consulting LLC, which was contracted to provide staff on a temporary basis for Waste Management of Texas Inc. In May 2014, Mr. Stevenson was assigned to a Waste Management garbage truck when another employee accidentally backed the truck over Mr. Stevenson's leg and foot, causing a serious injury, according to documents in Waste Management of Texas, Inc. and Rigoberto Zelaya v. Robert Stevenson, filed in Austin.

Mr. Stevenson applied for workers compensation benefits under Taylor Smith's policy and then sued Waste Management and the truck driver, alleging common-law negligence. The defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that the exclusive remedy provision of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act barred Mr. Stevenson’s claims and that Mr. Stevenson was, for workers compensation purposes, Waste Management’s employee at the time of the accident, according to documents.

Mr. Stevenson argued in a cross-motion for summary judgment “that no evidence existed that he was Waste Management's employee,” relying primarily on the staffing agency contract, which states that temporary laborers such as Mr. Stevenson “shall be independent contractors in respect of Waste Management.”

A trial court granted summary judgment for Waste Management. A court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that “a genuine fact issue” existed as to whether Mr. Stevenson was Waste Management's employee.

The state’s highest court reversed, concluding that because “evidence conclusively established that Waste Management controlled the progress, details, and methods of operations of the work” conducted by Mr. Stevenson, he qualified as the defendant's employee under the state’s Workers' Compensation Act.