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Military contractor must prove worker was employee to avoid suit


An appeals court in Texas on Wednesday ruled that a military contractor must prove a worker was an employee to avoid a “substantial jury award” over negligence stemming from a workplace accident in 2016.

Addison, Texas-based King Aerospace, hired by the U.S. Army to maintain aircraft, was sued by Jorge Hernandez, who fell from a ladder while painting the wing of a plane and was seriously injured. The negligence suit, of which King fought, stating it was the employer, a subscriber to the workers compensation system in Texas, and thus immune to lawsuit per the exclusive remedy clause in workers comp law, resulted in a jury award of “over a million dollars,” according to Jorge L. Hernandez. v. King Aerospace, filed in the Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso.

King contracts with the U.S. Army to service aircraft at Fort Bliss Army Base. While King directly hires many of its own permanent employees, it often needs additional skilled individuals on a temporary basis, including aircraft maintenance specialists. King often relies on Aircraft Technologies Group, which employs trained and experienced maintenance specialists. Mr. Hernandez was an ATG employee who had been selected by King to work on several projects beginning in 2013, according to the ruling.

A jury trial found that Mr. Hernandez was not an employee of King and despite that finding, a trial court ultimately concluded that Mr. Hernandez was King’s employee and entered a take nothing judgment in King's favor.

The appeals court, in reversing and remanding, wrote that “a genuine issue of material fact governs the employment question” and that “the record contains some conflicting evidence of probative force over whether Hernandez was an employee of King at the time of the accident.”

“Even considering the contrary evidence that King advances, it did not conclusively establish that it was Hernandez’s employer at the time of his accident for purposes of the exclusive remedies provision in the Workers’ Compensation Act. As a result, we agree with Hernandez that the trial court erred in disregarding the jury’s verdict,” the court wrote.