AUSTIN – A state appeals court recently revived an injured temporary employee's lawsuit, saying questions remain about whether the worker was a Houston-based garbage service's employee under the state's workers' compensation rules.
In its 14-page opinion issued Feb. 21, the 14th Court of Appeals two-judge panel ruled that evidence dismissed by a lower court "raises a genuine fact issue" about whether the injured worked had been a Waste Management of Texas when he was injured in 2014.
Waste Management parties have argued that the worker, appellant Robert Stevenson, was actually an employee of the temp agency Taylor Smith Consulting and that its master agreement with Taylor Smith Consulting, as the independent contractor, did not apply to Stevenson. The Appeals Court disagreed with that interpretation of the master agreement.
"In addition, no language in the contract provides that this part of the master agreement does not apply to the work performed by personnel supplied by Taylor Smith," Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost wrote. "We conclude that the master agreement is a written contract expressly providing that Stevenson is an independent contractor and not a Waste Management employee and that the master agreement does not vest Waste Management with the right to control the details of Stevenson’s work."
Stevenson was severely injured in May 2014 when the Waste Management garbage truck he was working on, driven by another worker, backed up and over Stevenson's right foot and leg. Stevenson later sued Waste Management and the driver, claiming his injuries were the result of negligence, negligent hiring and training and supervision.
The Harris County 113th District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Waste Management and the driver and dismissed Stevenson's claim, finding the exclusive-remedy provision under the state's Workers' Compensation Act barred Stevenson's negligence claims.
Justice Tracy Christopher concurred in the opinion. Now former Justice Martha Hill Jamison had been assigned to the panel for the case and she participated during oral argument but she lost her Place 5 seat to now Justice Frances Bourliot during November's election. Texas law allows for remaining justices in a panel to decide a case if for any reason one of the assigned justices cannot continue.