SE Texas Record

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Fort Bend County loses appeal against late sheriff's wife over benefits


By Charmaine Little | Mar 25, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Texas 14th Court of Appeals affirmed March 21 an order of severance in favor of a woman whom Fort Bend County had sued amid a worker’s compensation issue after her husband, a sheriff, died on the job.

The county appealed an order for Melissa Ann Norsworthy on multiple grounds but the appeals court determined it was best to uphold the decision from the Fort Bend County District Court.

AfterNorsworthy and her two children were awarded funds from a separate lawsuit, Fort Bend County sued over the worker’s compensation benefits that the surviving family received. On appeal, the county said the third party recovery that Melissa Ann Norsworthy children had, is the reason the lower court erred in making the county make weekly benefits payments to her. 

The appeals court ruled that the lower court actually made the right decision. For starters, she didn’t ask for recovery from the trucking company involved in the accident. Her son is the one who filed a separate lawsuit against that company. Norsworthy didn’t even participate in the case or settlement agreement.

Although Justice Margaret ‘Meg’ Poissant authored the opinion and Justice Charles A. Spain concurred, Chief Justice Kem Frost dissented. He said that since Melissa Ann Norsworth receives workers’ compensation through her late husband, she and her children are considered claimants. Therefore, the recovery amount her daughter received “means that the ‘claimant’ has recovered against a third party, entitling Fort Bend County to advance against the future benefits of Norsworth and her children,'' according to the dissenting opinion.

Norsworthy is the husband of John Norsworthy, who worked as a Fort Bend County deputy sheriff. While on the job, he swerved so his vehicle wouldn’t hit debris that had fallen off the flatbed delivery truck owned by SBS/Bison Building Materials LLC, drove off the road and was severely injured. 

A man named Morris Crosby was driving that truck. Before Norsworthy died, Fort Bend County paid worker’s compensation for him. After his death, the county paid a weekly death benefit to Melissa Ann Norsworthy as an individual and guardian of her minor children, a son, Jacob, who was 16, and a daughter Katlyn, who was 13 at the time. Norsworthy was scheduled to receive worker’s compensation for life as John Norsworthy was a first responder.

After Jacob Norsworthy became an adult, he sued Bison and Crosby in a wrongful death suit. By now, Melissa Ann . Norsworthy and both children were receiving their own share of worker’s compensation from the benefits. During mediation, they settled with Bison for $1.7 million, which granted them $849,000 each. Norsworthy did not sign the agreement.

Matters changed after the county filed a petition in intervention of the lawsuit, asking to be recovered the worker’s compensation benefits issued to Melissa Ann Norsworthy and the three children. It also filed a motion for summary judgment against Katlyn and Melissa Ann Norsworthy to get the rest of the worker’s compensation lien, which was determined to be $449,959.32. It received a $221,219.20 recovery after the trial court ordered a disbursement of the $849,000.

A lower court then ordered a “defendant in intervention Melissa Norsworthy’s interlocutory judgment and order of severance,” and dismissed the claims against Norsworthy, ordering the county to keep paying worker’s compensation. Fort Bend County later filed a notice of appeal. Norsworthy said that should be dismissed, which the court did, leading to FBC’s appeal.  

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