Common Scenarios and Examples of Cases Involving Workplace Injuries
Interviewer: Describe the most common ways you see people get injured at work.
Stephen Boutros: There’s a multitude of ways that people get injured. Usually, you see people get injured through the fault of coworkers not following safety policies and procedures that are put in place or employers failing to implement proper safety policies and procedures to keep the employees safe. Sometimes, they’ll implement the safety policies, they’ll put it in force, but then if you don’t properly supervise and workers have pressure to get the job done as quickly as possible, then you see people get hurt.
Interviewer: Without giving specific details about the people, what are the most prevalent types of cases you handle?
Stephen Boutros: We’ve handled non-subscriber cases. These are cases where we sue employers who failed to provide a safe workplace for their employees because the employers are non-subscribers to the Texas Workers Comp system. So they can be sued. That’s how we, as lawyers, refer to those cases, as non-subscriber cases. We’ve handled literally hundreds of these cases against employers that don’t carry Comp.
Some examples, I actually tried one of the largest personal injury cases in Harris County this year. This case involved a gentleman named Kelvin Graves, who was a flatbed truck driver and he was dispatched to pick up a load from a yard, and he didn’t know what he was picking up until he got to the yard. He was picking up heavy, loose pipe, but the truck he was dispatched with didn’t have pipe stakes. Pipe Stakes are the iron vertical supports that keep pipe from rolling off. His employer, who did not have Workers Comp, should not have dispatched him to pick up the load, without having the proper equipment needed to safely secure the load.
The pipe company loaded the pipe, even though their safety rules specifically said, you can never load heavy, loose pipe onto a flatbed that doesn’t have four vertical supports, the pipe stakes. So they violated their company’s own safety rules and the inevitable happened. Workers were trying to get the job done but they hadn’t either been properly trained, hadn’t been given the proper equipment, or were not being properly supervised. The pipe rolled off and crushed Kelvin’s legs. His left leg ultimately had to be amputated through the knee.
A different case I handled again, involved a flatbed truck driver who was delivering AC units to a plant here in Houston. These were commercial AC units. The way in which they stacked these AC units on the back of his truck was side-by-side, he unhooked the straps from the driver’s side, and then walked around to the passenger-side of the flatbed. A forklift driver came and put the prongs of his forklift to pick up the first pallet but he extended the prongs too far, so that the tips actually went into the second pallet. When he tried to lift the first pallet off, it flipped the other air conditioning unit on top of my client. It hit him, not on top of the head but on top of his face, and actually scalped his face. It was a horrific injury.
This was caused by the negligence of the forklift operator, but it was also caused by the negligence in the dangerous way the load was initially put on the flatbed. In this particular case, the forklift operator was not a certified forklift operator. He was just a guy working in a yard doing something he wasn’t qualified to do, and his employer should have never allowed that. That would be another example.
Also, I had a case where a man was working in the milk plant. Of course, when you’re operating forklifts inside, they’re all electric forklifts, right? You can’t have gas-operated machines in an enclosed area. This man was driving an electrically-operated forklift up a ramp in the milk plant and this electric forklift had a fault in it. It lost power as it was going up the ramp. The forklift started sliding backwards and he couldn’t stop it. He turned around to look to see where he was going, and when he did that, his foot slipped out of the forklift and then was crushed between the forklift and a cement pole that was there in the plant. His foot ultimately had to be amputated.
These are just a few examples. I can give literally a hundred more of how people get hurt in the workplace. When either their employer doesn’t have Workers Compensation coverage or their employer does have Workers Compensation coverage but they got hurt by an employee of another company. A lot of times, you see situations like Mr. Graves, where you have two workers working together but they’re not employed by the same employer. If one worker hurts another and they have different employers, then the Workers Compensation coverage can’t bar the lawsuit against the company of the coworker.
Suing an Employer for a Work Related Injury or Death
Interviewer: How does someone know if they have a case? Do they first check if the employer has Workers Comp or not?
Stephen Boutros: That’s the first question because we do not handle Workers Compensation claims. The Texas Workers Comp Commission keeps a list online of all the subscribers to its system. If someone is hurt on the job and they don’t know whether their employer has Workers Comp or not, the first thing they have to do is they have to go online and check the Texas Workers Comp website. They can learn whether their employer’s a subscriber or not. If the employer is not a subscriber, then he can be sued. If he is a subscriber, he cannot be sued.
There is one exception to that. The one exception where an employer with Workers Comp coverage can be sued is if an employee is killed on the job and was killed as a result of that employer’s gross negligence. If your employer was grossly negligent and he kills you, then your family can still bring a claim against the employer despite the fact the employer had Workers Comp Insurance.