A Texas appeals court ruled Friday that a county had the right to dismiss a widow’s claim for damages under the Wrongful Death Act and for exemplary damages under the Workers’ Compensation Act for an employee’s alleged work-related death.
Lorenzo Ramirez worked for the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office. He reportedly suffered a fall while on the job at the Hudspeth County Jail when he tripped over a rolled-up floor mat. The fall caused Ramirez to hit his head, and he died several days later, according to the report Hudspeth County v. Ramirezin to The Court of Appeals for the 8th District of Texas in El Paso, Texas.
Mr. Ramirez’s widow sued the county, first making a claim under the Wrongful Death Act and for exemplary damages under the Workers̵7; Compensation Act. The county filed a plea to the jurisdiction, and before the trial court could rule on it, the widow filed an amended petition alleging an alternative claim under the Torts Act. The trial judge denied the county’s motions.
The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, declaring that an employee receiving workers’ compensation is generally barred from suing the employer for actual damages arising out of the incident. However, when a compensable injury results in death, the surviving spouse and heirs may “bring an action for the death of the employee” and to recover exemplary damages from the employer for its gross negligence.
The Court noted that the Legislature has applied portions of the Workers’ Compensation Act through the Political Subdivisions Act, which do not waive state immunity or create a new cause of action. The court said the workers’ comp benefits claim was not supported under the Act, as the Labor Code has adopted the exclusive remedy provision under the Political Subdivisions Act.
The court also said wrongful death liability against a county can only be imposed under the Tort Claims Act. Neither the Political Divisions Act nor the Workers’ Compensation Act allows an action or damages against a political division beyond those permitted under the Tort Claims Act.
WorkCompCentral is a sister magazine to Business Insurance. More stories here.