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Pursuing Negligence Claims for Intentional Injuries at a Texas Worksite

Like most states, Texas has a workers’ compensation system that governs the payment of benefits for most injuries that occur on the job. The upside of a workers’ compensation system is that injured workers can receive medical benefits and some portion of lost wages without having to prove fault. The huge downside to seriously injured workers, however, is that their recovery is limited to only medical benefits and partial lost wages, and they cannot pursue greater damages for pain and suffering, full loss of future wages, and punitive damages. Workers are generally limited to suing their employer in workers’ compensation, unless one of several exceptions applies. One of these exceptions is for intentional injuries that occur on the job, and this exception was at the center of a recent appellate case involving a construction worker whose lower leg was amputated following a construction worker and who had initially been awarded $43.5 million by a Texas injury which was later overturned by an appellate court that ruled the worker was only entitled to recovery in workers’ compensation.

Intentional Injuries Are Limited to Those Caused by “Vice-Principals”

In the case of Berkel & Co. Contractors, Inc. v. Lee, Tyler Lee, the superintendent of a general contractor, suffered serious injury when a crane toppled over, causing leads to crush Lee’s leg and eventually lead to amputation below the knee. The crane toppled over as a result of directions provided by Chris Miller, superintendent of subcontractor Berkel & Co., which Lee argued was not only grossly negligent but also an intentional injury inflicted upon him by Miller and thus outside the scope of the workers’ compensation system.

The Texas appeals court addressing Berkel & Co’s appeal of the $43.5 million award made to Lee first dealt with the question of what type of employee can make an employer liable outside of workers’ compensation for an intentional injury, noting that not every intentional act made by a low-level employee will be included. The court ruled that, for there to be negligence liability, the intentional act must have been carried out by a person qualifying as a “vice-principal” which includes:

  • Corporate officers
  • Those who have the authority to employ, direct, and discharge servants of the master
  • Those engaged in the performance of non-delegable or absolute duties of the master, and
  • Those to whom the master has confided the management of the whole or a department or a division of the business

Intentional Injuries Include Injuries Substantially Certain to Occur

Although the court found that Miller did indeed qualify as a vice-principal of the contractor, his actions did not rise to the level of an intentional injury inflicted on Lee. While it was not argued that Miller literally intended to injure Lee, intentional injuries for the purpose of this analysis includes those injuries that are “substantially certain to occur” and Lee argued that his injuries were indeed substantially to occur as a result of Miller’s actions.

The court disagreed, however, finding that, while Miller may have known that his actions in directing the crane were “extremely dangerous,” he did not necessarily know where the leads would fall as a result of the crane malfunction, and specifically that Lee would be in the zone of danger of being pinned by the leads. Thus, the court found that Miller did not intentionally injure Lee.

Questions like the ones presented in this case are extremely fact-intensive involving technical analysis, so an injured worker should not be dissuaded by the result in this particular case and should instead speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to assess his or her odds for success outside of the Texas workers’ compensation system.

Work With Experienced Dallas Personal Injury Attorneys

If you have been injured by an intentional act on the job in Texas, you may be entitled to a significant recovery outside of the workmens’ compensation system, and you should speak with an experienced personal injury who can assess your situation and advise you on your options.

The Kelley Law Firm PC in Dallas, TX represents the rights of personal injury victims and family members of those killed wrongfully. We have successfully recovered numerous 7-figure settlements and verdicts on behalf of our clients, and are passionately committed to obtaining the maximum financial recovery that our clients deserve. Contact us today to schedule a consultation regarding your personal injury or wrongful death matter.

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