HOUSTON – The First Court of Appeals has wiped a $17 million jury verdict against Austin Bridge & Road in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The suit was brought by the family of Jose Dario Suarez, who drowned while working on a bridge across the Brazos River in January 2014.
Following a trial, Austin Bridge appealed, arguing the exclusive-remedy provision of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act bars the Suarez family’s negligence claims because Baylor University, as the owner of the project on which Suarez was killed, purchased an owner-controlled insurance program that covered all subcontractors.
Austin Bridge also argued the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s gross negligence findings.
On May 3, justices concluded that Austin Bridge conclusively established that the Suarez family received death benefits pursuant to the workers’ compensation insurance policy provided to Derr & Isbell, Suarez’s direct employer, pursuant to written agreements creating and implementing the Baylor Stadium OCIP to provide workers’ compensation insurance to all workers on the project.
“We render judgment that the Suarezes take nothing on their negligence claims against Austin Bridge,” the opinion states, authored by Justice Evelyn Keyes.
Court records show the Texas Building Branch of the Associated General Contractors of America filed a brief of amici curiae in the case.
“The primary purpose of this brief is to underscore the importance of the issue on appeal – the preservation of the exclusive remedy under controlled insurance programs (“CIPs”) – to construction owners, contractors, subcontractors, brokers, and insurers alike,” the brief states.
Justices further found the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s finding of gross negligence.
“Accordingly, the Suarezes are not entitled to the exemplary damages awarded based on the finding of gross negligence,” the opinion states.
The First Court reversed the judgment of the trial court and rendered judgment that the Suarez family take nothing.
Austin Bridge is represented by Jessica Barger and Bradley Snead, attorneys for the Wright & Close law firm in Houston.
The plaintiffs are represented in part by attorney Vuk Vujasinovic.
Appeals case No. 01-16-00682-CV