This past week, I met with a young man who was recently injured on the job. He worked at a valve shop and was directed by his employer to burn materials in the shop. However, this young man was not given the proper equipment, training, or instructions by his employer. Consequently, the worker was badly burned, spent several months in the intensive care burn unit, had multiple skin grafts, and is now terribly scarred. After meeting with this young man and his fiancé for nearly an hour, and after hearing the full details of the incident and the subsequent treatment, I discovered something in the materials that changed the entire meeting.
The gentleman had brought with him a folder that contained all the medical records and billing records from the burn treatment, as well as photographs showing the progression of the wounds. Contained within that same folder was a document that was prepared by his employer; this document immediately caught my attention. Upon further review, this document was release and settlement agreement that the employer prepared, and that the potential client had signed. Indeed, although the burned worker had over $100,000 in unpaid medical bills related to the incident, the worker had agreed to settle any claims that he may have been able to bring against his employer for substantially less than even the amount of the outstanding medical bills.
This particular worker’s employer was not a subscriber to workers’ compensation insurance; thus, this employer had forfeited many of the legal defenses available to defendants in Texas law suits because the employer did not provide its employees with benefits in the event of an injury on the job. This particular worker would likely have been successful in a claim against his former employer for negligence. Such a victory would have allowed the jury to assess the proper amount of damages for past medical bills, in addition to damages associated with the terrible pain and suffering associated with third-degree burns, the physical disfigurement, and the lost wages that resulted from the worker’s time in the hospital. However, this particular worker has settled his potential case and released his former employer of all liability for substantially less than even the amount of outstanding medical bills. To make matters worse, this particular worker had signed several release agreements, all of which were witnessed and notarized. When I asked why the worker signed the release and settlement agreements, the worker simply said that he needed the money to continue living and making rent.
Because the worker had already settled his case, there was nothing that I could do for the worker. The facts did not indicate that any other entity or person was responsible for the incident, other than the former employer. Given that the worker had already settled any potential causes of action against the former employer, there was no way to file a successful suit against the former employer. The lesson to be learned is simple. If you are injured due to the actions or omissions of another, seek legal counsel prior to making any decisions or signing anything. Most personal injury attorneys will offer free consultations and will discuss the legal issues that may be hidden under the surface. The lawyers at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner offer such free consultations. Indeed, had this particular worker come to us directly, without signing any legal documents, I would have taken this case and pursued a case against the former employer for all damages caused by the incident. I hope this tale is a lesson to all who may read it. Protect your rights! Consult a personal injury lawyer prior to signing or saying anything.