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Injured professor may sue campus police for negligence

Posted On: Jan. 27, 2023 12:20 PM CST


A trial court correctly determined a Texas nursing professor didn’t have to first file a workers compensation claim before civilly suing a campus police officer after the woman was struck by a cruiser in a school parking lot, an appeals court ruled.

The Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, affirmed Thursday a trial judge’s decision denying a move by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to dismiss Rita Oteka’s personal injury suit because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before going to the civil courts.  

Ms. Oteka was injured in May 2019, after being struck by a university police vehicle while she was walking through a parking lot after attending a school graduation ceremony.

The university, a self-insured employer, informed Ms. Oteka about workers comp coverage, but Ms. Oteka said she would use private insurance.

The university then denied comp coverage, according to the ruling.  

Ms. Oteka sued for negligence in December 2020 and the university contended Ms. Oteka failed to exhaust her exclusive remedy under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act and that jurisdiction should lie with the state workers comp division, not a trial court.

The insurer did not accept coverage until after Ms. Oteka filed her negligence suit and two-and-a-half years after the incident.

Ms. Oteka asserted that she was not in the course and scope of her employment when she was struck by the police car in the parking lot on graduation day.

The trial court agreed with Ms. Oteka and the university appealed.

The appeals court ruled the trial judge correctly determined Ms. Oteka’s lawsuit is not based on whether she is eligible for comp benefits and that she was not required to exhaust her administrative remedies before the Division of Workers’ Compensation before commencing a civil suit.