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Employment status at issue in case of worker who died of heatstroke


A Texas appellate court on Thursday ruled that the family of a construction worker who died as the result of a heat-related injury can sue the company overseeing the worksite if it is determined he was not an employee of the business.

Pedro Martinez died in July 2019 of injuries caused by heatstroke while working on a construction site overseen by Hellas Construction Inc. Hellas initially denied his status as an employee when it learned of the injury, according to In re Hellas Construction Inc., filed in the Court of Appeals for the 3rd District of Texas in Austin.

The family did not file a workers compensation claim because it didn't believe Mr. Martinez was a Hellas employee. Instead, the family filed a lawsuit against Hellas, which raised an exclusive remedy defense, claiming he was an employee.

Contending the Division of Workers’ Compensation had the exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether Mr. Martinez was an employee, Hellas filed a combined plea to the jurisdiction and motion for abatement in the trial court. The court issued an order abating the case to allow the parties to invoke the jurisdiction of the DWC.

The family filed a motion to lift the abatement because there was no pending claim before the DWC. The trial court lifted the abatement, and Hellas appealed.

Meanwhile, Texas Mutual Insurance Co. filed a request for a benefit review conference with the DWC on the issue of whether Mr. Martinez was an employee of its insured, Hellas.

An administrative law judge found Hellas was Mr. Martinez’s employer, and an appeals panel affirmed that decision. The family then filed suit for judicial review and later filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asking to dismiss its own suit for judicial review. A trial judge overruled the plea to the jurisdiction, and the family appealed.

The appeals court granted a writ of mandamus to Hellas placing tort litigation between the company and the worker’s family on hold until the DWC can determine if the worker was a Hellas employee, regardless of whether there was a pending claim or merely a potential claim.

WorkCompCentral is a sister publication of Business Insurance. More stories here.