HOUSTON – Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals has overturned a $43.5 million Brazoria County workers’ comp verdict involving a construction worker who had his leg amputated above the knee.
Berkel & Co. construction superintendent Tyler Lee was working on a Houston construction site in 2013 when the crane collapsed, pinning him. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors were forced to amputate his left leg above the knee, according to court documents.
Berkel had been hired to drill auger cast pilings. During the work, the auger became stuck. The operator stopped the work, but a supervisor demanded the work to resume. That lead to the crane collapse, according to the complaint.
Lee was standing behind a safety fence about 100 feet away when a large piece of the crane hit him and pinned him down, documents show. Another crane was brought in to lift the equipment, and Lee was hospitalized.
Berkel & Co. and Maxim Crane Works said Lee's claims were barred under the exclusive remedy provision of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, and that punitive damages would violate the Eighth Amendment's excessive fines clause, as well as the 14th Amendment and the Texas Constitution, among other things.
The Brazoria County trial jury ruled Berkel and Maxim were both negligent, awarding Lee and his family damages for past and future medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, and past and future physical impairment, physical pain and mental anguish. They also were awarded $8.5 million in punitive damages for Berkel’s negligence. The jury assigned 90 percent of responsibility to Berkel, and 10 percent to Maxim.
But the appeals court overturned that verdict, saying “intentional injury” requires an intent to injure a particular person, not just a general knowledge that an activity is dangerous.
14th Court of Appeals case number 14-15-00787-CV