A Texas appeals court ruled Thursday that the family of a construction worker who died from a heat-related injury can sue the company that monitors the job site if it is determined that he was not an employee of the company.
Pedro Martinez died in July 2019 from injuries caused by heatstroke while working at a construction site overseen by Hellas Construction Inc. Hellas initially denied his status as an employee when it learned of the injury, according to In re Hellas Construction Inc.in the Court of Appeals for the 3rd District of Texas in Austin.
The family did not file a workers’ compensation claim because they did not believe Mr. Martinez was employed by Hellas. Instead, the family filed suit against Hellas, which raised an exclusive remedy defense, claiming he was an employee.
Arguing that the Division of Workers̵7; Compensation had exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether Martinez was an employee, Hellas filed a combined appeal to the jurisdiction and a motion in abatement in the trial court. The court issued an order dismissing the case to allow the parties to invoke the DWC’s jurisdiction.
The family filed a motion to vacate the reduction because there was no pending claim before the DWC. The district court overturned the reduction and Hellas appealed.
Meanwhile, Texas Mutual Insurance Co. filed a request for a benefits review conference with DWC on the issue of whether Martinez was employed by its insured, Hellas.
An administrative law judge found that Hellas was Martinez’s employer, and an appeals panel upheld that decision. The family then filed suit for judicial review and later appealed to the jurisdiction, asking to dismiss their own suit for judicial review. A trial judge overruled the plea to jurisdiction and the family appealed.
The appeals court granted Hellas a writ of habeas corpus and put tort litigation between the company and the worker’s family on hold until the DWC can determine whether the worker was a Hellas employee, whether there was an ongoing claim or just a potential claim.
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