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Can Texas employers get away with gross negligence?

The 81st session of the Texas Legislature is upon us. One area of law that needs to be revisited is the area of Workers’ Compensation law as it regards to fatalities on the job. The Texas Workers’ Compensation law of 1991 bars any employee from suing his/her employer if they are injured on the job if the employer is a Workers’ Compensation subscriber. However, if the employee is killed on the job, the family of the killed worker can sue the employer for acts constituting gross negligence; thus, the suit is for gross negligence only. Or can they? Under the Texas Workers’ Compensation law, suits for gross negligence against the employer can be brought by the spouse and/or children of the killed worker and no one else. The parents of the worker cannot sue under the Workers’ Compensation statute. So what happens if the killed worker has no spouse nor children? Therein lies the problem. If a worker in Texas is killed on the job and he/she does not have a spouse and/or children, the case is over…no one can sue. It doesn’t matter how grossly negligent the employer was in its actions, no one can sue.

For years, employers in Texas have been getting away with grossly negligent behavior. If an employer wants to totally disregard the safety of its employees, violate all OSHA laws and safety rules, act with total conscious disregard for its employees, all it has to do is hire young folks without spouses nor children and they can get away with “murder.”

Believe it or not, it’s true. This has been happening for years. It’s unfair and it’s not right. However, in order to make this law fair, the 81st Texas Legislature will have to revisit the issue and propose change. And frankly, it about time for a change.

With all the changes in Washington, D.C., changes in Austin, and here locally in Harris County, the people of Texas have demonstrated that they are not afraid of change as long as it is for the best. Undoubtedly, a change to the Texas Workers’ Compensation law regarding gross negligence cases is one that will bring justice to hundreds of families every year. The time for change has come and the 81st Texas Legislature has a perfect opportunity to make our great State’s laws better, and right a wrong that for years has been plaguing the parents of workers killed on the job.

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