Sunday, October 30, 2011

Workplace injury claim by employee not covered by employer's Workers Comp (nonsubscriber)

In order for an employee to recover from an employer who is a non-subscriber under the Texas Worker’s Compensation Act, the employee must establish negligence on the part of the employer. Aleman v. Ben E. Keith Co., 227 S.W.3d 304, 310 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, no pet.). A negligence cause of action has three elements: (1) a legal duty owed by one person to another, (2) a breach of that duty, and (3) damages proximately caused by the breach. Id. The threshold inquiry in a negligence case is duty. Centeq Realty, Inc. v. Siegler, 899 S.W.2d 195, 197 (Tex. 1995).
The existence of duty is a question of law for a court to decide from the facts surrounding the occurrence in question. Van Horn v. Chambers, 970 S.W.2d 542, 544 (Tex. 1998); Siegler, 899 S.W.2d at 197; Greater Houston Transp. Co. v. Phillips, 801 S.W.2d 523, 525 (Tex. 1990). “The existence of duty is a question of law when all of the essential facts are undisputed, but when the evidence does not conclusively establish the pertinent facts or the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, the question becomes one of fact . . . .” Mitchell v. Missouri-Kansas, Texas R.R. Co., 786 S.W.2d 659, 662 (Tex. 1990) (quoting Bennett v. Span Indus., Inc., 628 S.W.2d 470, 474 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1981, writ ref’d n.r.e.)); see also Sanders v. Herold, 217 S.W.3d 11, 15 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, no pet.) (citing Mitchell).
An employer has a duty to “warn an employee of the hazards of employment and provide needed safety equipment or assistance.” Jack in the Box, Inc. v. Skiles, 221 S.W.3d 566, 568 (Tex. 2007). An employer has a “duty to warn or caution an employee of a danger” when (1) ‘the employment is of a dangerous character requiring skill and caution for its safe and proper discharge,” and (2) “the employer is aware of the danger and has reason to know the employee is unaware.” Nat’l Convenience Stores Inc. v. Matherne, 987 S.W.2d 145, 149 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1999, no pet.). However, an employer is not an insurer of its employees’ safety. Kroger Co. v. Elwood, 197 S.W.3d 793, 794 (Tex. 2006). An employer therefore does not owe a duty “to warn of hazards that are commonly known or already appreciated by the employee.” Jack in the Box, 221 S.W.3d at 568–¬69 (quoting Elwood, 197 S.W.3d at 794). In looking to the scope of this duty, the employee’s age and experience should be considered. Nabors Drilling, U.S.A., Inc. v. Escoto, 288 S.W.3d 401, 412 (Tex. 2009).
“Where an employer provides its employee with at least one safe way to perform her assigned tasks and the employee chooses to perform the task by a different method, thereby injuring herself, the employer is not liable.” Woodlawn Mfg., Inc. v. Robinson, 937 S.W.2d 544, 548 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1996, writ denied) (citing Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co. v. Lang, 291 S.W.2d 366, 367–68 (Tex. Civ. App.—Eastland 1956, writ ref’d n.r.e.)). When, however, there is evidence that the employer failed to instruct its employees on how to perform their jobs while avoiding known safety risks, an employer may still be liable. See id.

SOURCE: HOUSTON COURT OF APPEALS - 01-10-00867-CV - 10/20/11

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