Supreme Court Rules Against Worker’s Widow

By changing the decades-long definition of causation in workers’ compensation claims, the Texas Supreme Court recently ruled against the widow of an injured worker who was injured and died. The case was Transcontinental Insurance Company v. Crump, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2010)(8/27/10).

The employee, Mr. Crump, had undergone a kidney transplant during his youth, and had been successfully receiving medication to prevent rejection. While working, he struck his knee. He received worker’s compensation benefits, but later died from complications. His widow sought death benefits, and won both a contested case hearing and an appeal. Because the carrier filed suit claiming that the injury did not cause his death, the burden shifted to it at trial.

“Producing cause,” which is not provided in the workers’ compensation statute, has “been the standard for proving causation in workers’ compensation claims for more than eighty years.” In a products liability case from 2007, “we held that what had been ‘a frequently submitted definition of ‘producing cause’ [from the Pattern Jury Charges] should no longer be used [in such cases].'” Instead, “producing cause should be correctly defined as ‘a substantial factor in bringing about an injury, and without which the injury would not have occurred.'” Both proximate cause and producing cause include “actual causation in fact.” And “producing cause” in workers’ compensation cases is “conceptually no different from the cause in fact inquiry in negligence cases” and in producing cause used elsewhere. “Therefore, we hold that producing cause in workers’ compensation cases is defined as a substantial factor in bringing about an injury or death, and without which the injury or death would not have occurred.”

Here, because of the omission of the “but-for” component, the Court threw out the jury’s verdict.