St. Mary's Law Journal


The current workers’ compensation system shields negligent employers from liability and fails to encourage compliance with safety standards. A practical solution is to broaden the judicial definition of intentional conduct and reinstate a common-law negligence action in workers’ compensation statutes. The Texas Workers’ Compensation Act awards compensation to employees for accidental injuries sustained in the course of employment. The Act bars an employee who accepts these benefits from bringing a common-law suit for damages against the employer. The exclusive nature of the workers’ compensation remedy thus leaves employers immune from common-law negligence actions by employees who accept the plan. An exception exists when an employer intentionally injures an employee, or when the employer’s intentional or grossly negligent conduct causes an employee’s death. The application of these exceptions, however, leaves large gaps in the law, thus allowing severe employer misconduct to continue without reprimand or penalty.

Two alternatives exist to deter safety violations and failures to maintain a safe working environment. First, the courts may take the initial step in solving this problem by broadening the judicial definition of intentional conduct to include willful, wanton, and reckless behavior. Second, the legislature should amend the workers’ compensation statutes to reinstate a common-law negligence action for an employee injured by the grossly negligent conduct of his employer. Either of these actions would promote compliance with safety statutes and deter employer misconduct, thus providing a safer working environment. Regardless of the measures taken, immediate action is necessary to remove the shield of immunity currently protecting employers’ balance sheets and to begin protecting the work force.


St. Mary's University School of Law