TIC Energy & Chem, Inc. v. Martin – Exclusive Remedy, Contractors and Co-Workers

In workers’ compensation cases, part of what employees gave up in the “grand bargain” for no-fault benefits for workplace injuries and illnesses was the right to sue their employer for negligence. That means even if a worker would likely have received more compensation as a result of a personal injury negligence lawsuit, the employee can’t sue the company so long as the injury is covered under workers’ compensation laws. gavel7

Co-workers also are protected under this provision, and workers can’t sue them, even if their negligence caused or contributed to the accident.

But sometimes the question of who is “co-worker” – particularly on a construction site – can get tricky. That’s because there may be a number of different contractor and subcontractors, and some may under state law be extended protection under the exclusive remedy provision. It’s important to differentiate because when one can take action against a third party, recovery in addition to workers’ compensation may be obtained.

This was the issue in the recent case of TIC Energy & Chem, Inc. v. Martin, recently before the Texas Supreme Court. Of course, it’s important to point out that case law varies from state-to-state, but this case outlines situations we see crop up in North Carolina cases too. 

According to court records, plaintiff suffered a work-related accident in which he lost one of his legs. He sought – and recovered – workers’ compensation through an owner-controlled insurance program.

After the accident and after he received workers’ compensation benefits, plaintiff sought compensation from a subcontractor that had been providing maintenance services at the site. He alleged the employees of this subcontractor acted with negligence and in turn caused his injury.

The subcontractor filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the exclusive remedy provision prohibited the lawsuit. It cited a section of the labor code which indicates that when a general contractor agrees in writing to provide workers’ compensation insurance to the subcontractor, the subcontractor is considered an “employee” and thus would have been a co-worker to employees.

In response, plaintiff argued exclusive remedy did not apply because the subcontractor was actually an independent contractor that had entered into a contract with his employer under which it assumed responsibilities of an employer for purposes under the workers’ compensation act.

Trial court denied the subcontractor’s motion for summary judgment, but allowed an interlocutory appeal, in which the appeals court determined there was actually a conflict of law. One section of the statute states unambiguously that general contractors are the “employers” of subcontractors for purposes of workers’ compensation, but another states, also unambiguously, that subcontractors are not employees of general contractors for workers’ compensation purposes.

Still, the appeals court still affirmed the order denying summary judgment because it determined the subcontractor had not conclusively established its affirmative defense, as it had failed to negate the applicability of the section that states subcontractors aren’t employees.

The Texas Supreme Court, in ascertaining the legislature’s intent, determined the intention was to find subcontractors are employees for workers’ compensation purposes.

If you have a work-related injury in which other outside parties may be responsible as well, it’s important to contact an established workers’ compensation law firm.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

TIC Energy & Chem, Inc. v. Martin, Feb. 9, 2016, Texas Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Study: New Workers at Higher Risk of Injury, Death, June 7, 2016, South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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