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Brooks Schuelke
Brooks Schuelke
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Texas Legislators Criticize Texas Supreme Court

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Last August, the Texas Supreme Court handed down a ruling in a case involving an on-the-job accident. In the case, a property owner hired a company to perform maintenance and construction services on the plant located on the property. The owner also bought workers’ compensation insurance to cover the company’s employees. After one of the company’s employees was injured in a worksite accident, the employee sued the property owner for the property owner’s contribution to his injuries. The Supreme Court ruled that the employee couldn’t sue the property owner because the property owner was a “general contractor” under the definitions of Texas Worker’s comp statutes, and was thus immune from suit. In reaching that decision, the Supreme Court said that from the language of the statute it was clear that the legislature intended to protect property owners in such a situation.

But some legislators disagreed. Earlier this week, four Texas legislators (two Republicans and two Democrats) filed an amicus brief with the Court saying that the Court was wrong — they never intended to provide such expansive protection to property owners for on-the-job accidents.

In their brief, the lawmakers write as follows:

This Court, by disregarding the express terms of the Legislature’s enactments, has violated the separation of powers clause of the Texas Constitution and impermissibly encroached on the powers and functions expressly reserved to the Legislature.

This Court’s holding in this case improperly extends that immunity to non-employer premises (plant) owners. The Legislature has never authorized such an extension, never intended to provide such an extension, and, in fact, has repeatedly rejected such an extension.

As you may know, the Texas Supreme Court has come under criticism from plaintiffs’ lawyers (and even some defense lawyers) for their pro-business and pro-insurance company decisions. It will be interesting to watch how that plays out now that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have jumped in the disputes.