If you slip and fall at work does your employer have to pay your medical bills and lost wages?

The Texas Supreme Court recently answered this question in the case of Austin v Kroger. Under Texas law an employer does not have to carry Texas Workers’ Compensation to protect its employees from injuries. In fact man of the largest employers in Texas do not carry such coverage but have their own injury benefit plans. Under Texas law if your employer has Texas Workers’ Compensation Insurance Coverage you can usually not sue them for your work injuries (including slip and falls) because they carry Texas Workers’ Compensation Insurance. This is known as the Workers’ Compensation Bar. You are barred from suing an employer for your injuries even if your employer was negligent in causing your injuries. However, if your employer does not carry Texas Workers’ Compensation (or has its own Injury Benefit Plan – such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target and many other employers) you can still sue your employer if they were negligent in causing your injuries. The Texas Legislature wanted to encourage employers to carry Texas Workers’ Compensation Coverage so it added that if your employer does not carry Texas Workers’ Compensation (known as non-subscribers because they don’t subscribe to Texas Workers’ Compensation Insurance) they cannot use the employees own negligence as a defense. So for example if you are hurt at work and your employer is only 1% at fault and you are 99% at fault your employer has to pay 100% of your medical bills, past and future lost wages, pain and suffering and any disfigurement.

However, the Texas Supreme Court has been very employer friendly (large employers are some of the largest contributors to Texas Supreme Court Judges opinions) and very unfriendly to employees (who don’t have the money or power to give large political contributions to Supreme Court Judges). In the Austin case the Texas Supreme Court held that if you are involved in a slip and fall at work and you knew of the danger (for example you knew the stairs were broken or there was a spill on the floor) that you cannot win against your employer even if the employer was negligent in causing the unsafe condition. They reasoned that if the defect (spill defective stairs) was known by you, you should have avoided it and therefore you have to pay for your own medical bills and lost wages. This is very unfortunate because it basically says that in slip and fall cases the employee’s negligence will cause him or her to lose her case if the employee admits they know of the danger and approached it anyway. This is true even if the employer specifically advised the employee to encounter the danger. For example in the Austin case an employee had been negligent and spilled very slippery oil like substance in a small bathroom. The employer sent the employee in to clean it and he was forced to walk on it to clean the spill and was extremely injured (fractured pelvis, surgery). However, what save the employee in the Austin v. Kroger case was the employer did not provide him with the proper tools to clean up the spill so he was able to maintain a lawsuit against his employer for failure to provide the necessary tools to do his job safety.

So my advice is to Texas and El Paso employees is to be very careful after an injury when giving statements to your employer. If you slipped or fell at work if you admit that you knew of the dangerous condition you may be out of luck in suing your employer. Most importantly if you are injured at work, go see a board certified employment lawyer as soon as possible so that your interest can be protected.

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