Gross Negligence and Fatal Work Accidents

worker in dangerous work environment

Under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, workers’ compensation benefits are available to employees for work-related injuries and family members of employees who suffered a fatal work injury. In addition, exemplary damages may be recovered by the surviving spouse or heirs of the deceased employee if the employee’s death was caused by an intentional act or omission of the employer or by the employer’s gross negligence.

Gross negligence occurs when a person consciously and voluntarily disregards the need to use reasonable care in a manner which is likely to cause foreseeable, grave injury or harm to persons, property or both. As a personal injury lawyer can explain to you, gross negligence is extreme in comparison to ordinary negligence, which occurs when a person fails to exercise reasonable care.

Recovering Exemplary Damages and Gross Negligence

Exemplary damages may be awarded if the claimant proves, under a standard of clear and convincing evidence that the harm with respect to which the claimant seeks recovery results from fraud, malice, or gross negligence. Texas law defines gross negligence as an act or omission which, when viewed objectively from the standpoint of the actor at the time of its occurrence, involves an extreme degree of risk (considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others) and of which the actor has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.

The burden of proof is on the claimant to prove the elements of exemplary damages; thus, a claimant should work with an experienced personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney who understands both workers’ compensation and negligence as a legal claim. Thus burden of proof cannot be shifted to the defendant or satisfied by evidence of ordinary negligence. In addition, exemplary damages may only be awarded if the jury is unanimous as to finding liability for a particular amount of such damages.

Workers’ Compensation and Gross Negligence

While employers who subscribe to workers’ compensation coverage are generally immune from being sued by employees for injuries that occur on the job because workers’ compensation is designed to compensate those workers for medical expenses and lost wages due to the injury, there are exceptions to this immunity. For example, the employer is not immune if the injury was caused by an intentional act or gross negligence committed by the employer. In those circumstances, when an employer’s gross negligence causes the death of the employee, the employee’s family has the right to recover workers’ compensation, while also bringing a claim against the employer in court for exemplary (punitive) damages.

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Houston, Texas Attorneys Who can do it All

At Michael P. Fleming & Associates, P.C., our experienced injury attorneys have assisted clients with and litigated a myriad of cases ranging from personal injury, to work injury, to wrongful death, and more. We are well-versed in handling these types of cases, which involve workers’ compensation and an element of personal injury and wrongful death. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Houston injury attorneys.