Texas Supreme Court reaffirms liability ruling

Chris Rizo Apr. 3, 2009, 4:14pm

Paul Green (R)

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)- Industrial plants, including refineries, are protected against some types of liability claims filed by injured contract workers, the Texas Supreme Court reaffirmed Friday, drawing praise from a legal reform group.

In a 6-3 ruling that reaffirmed its 2007 opinion in the case, the state high court again agreed with Entergy Gulf States Inc. that a general contractor providing workers compensation insurance to a subcontractor is protected from negligence claims that may be brought by a subcontractor's injured employee.

The decision was hailed by Richard Trabulsi, president of Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

"The Texas Supreme Court has done exactly what a court is supposed to do. They have ignored a firestorm of criticism from personal injury trial lawyers and followed the law as written," Trabulsi said.

"Courts should always interpret statutes to mean what the words of the statute plainly say, just as the Court did today."

The case involves Entergy Gulf States Inc. and John Summers, an employee with International Maintenance Corp. who sued over injuries he suffered in 2001 while repairing a leak on a hydrogen generator at the power company's Bridge City, Texas, plant.

New Orleans-based Entergy had provided workers compensation insurance covering IMC employees. Summers, a turbine mechanic, received benefits under Entergy's policy and later sued Entergy for negligence, seeking additional compensation.

A trial court ruled in favor of Entergy, but the decision was overturned by a state appeals court.

Entergy appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, asking justices to decide whether a business that hires subcontractors to perform work at its site and provides them workers compensation protections is shielded from workers' negligence claims.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled that because Summers was covered by a workers compensation policy purchased by Entergy, he could not collect damages from the company for alleged negligence.

"A general contractor is a person who takes on the task of obtaining the performance of work," the court's majority opinion by Justice Paul Green said. "That definition does not exclude premises owners; indeed it describes precisely what Entergy did."

The ruling comes as state lawmakers are working to reverse the high court's 2007 ruling. They have argued that the state's compensation law was never intended to apply to contractors.

The case is Entergy Gulf States Inc. v. Summers, NO. 05-0272.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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