A temporary staffing agency assigned a worker to a job with a waste management company. He got hurt on the assignment. And he wanted to sue the waste management company for negligence.
But the company was his employer. So workers’ compensation was his exclusive remedy, the highest state court in Texas decided.
An employee of the waste management company accidentally backed a garbage truck over the worker’s leg and foot.
He recovered workers’ compensation benefits from the staffing agency.
Next, he sued the waste management company for negligence. The waste management company argued that the negligence claim against it was barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity. It said the injured worker was its employee. A trial court agreed. An intermediate appeals court reversed. The case then reached the highest court in the state.
He Can’t Sue
The highest court in the state ruled for the waste management company. It decided that the waste management company was the worker’s employer. For that reason, state-law workers’ compensation provision made workers’ compensation benefits the worker’s exclusive remedy against the waste management company. The worker could not sue it for negligence, the court said.
Under state workers’ compensation law, an “employee” is “each person in the service of another under a contract of hire, whether express or implied, or oral or written.”
In addition, an “employer” is “a person who makes a contract of hire, employs one or more employees, and has workers’ compensation insurance coverage.”
The fact that the waste management company did not directly employ the worker did not prove he was not its employee under the state’s workers’ compensation scheme, the court explained.
The key question, the court said, was whether the waste management company had the right to control the worker’s daily work activities.
It did, the court said.
There was no doubt, it added, that the waste management company controlled the worker’s work. It controlled the progress, details and methods of operation of the work.
Nor did the waste management company contract away its exclusive-remedy protections by executing an agreement with the staffing agency, the court ruled, even though the agreement said workers the agency supplied to the waste management company would be independent contractors and not the waste management company’s employees.
The question was to be answered by looking to the parties’ daily relationship on the job — and that relationship was one of employer and employee under the workers’ compensation law, the court held.
Stevenson v. Waste Management of Texas, Inc., No. 19-0282, 2021 WL 1704230 (Tex. 4/30/21).