St. Mary's Law Journal


Jill Williford


The revision of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act will affect most Texas taxpayers and workers. The Act, entering into force January 1, 1991, significantly restructures the preexisting seventy-six-year-old system. Before the advent of workers’ compensation systems employees relied on the court and common-law causes of action as the sole means of recovery. In 1913, Texas enacted one of the first versions of workers’ compensation in the United States. The original act created a system to compensate workers for injuries sustained during employment without regard to fault. Initially the act was elective for employers and mandatory for employees but was later amended allowing employees to opt out of the Act and revert to reliance on common-law principles for suffered injuries. The rising cost of workers’ compensation insurance and the desire for tort reform in the 1980’s created the need to revise the existing Act. In addressing these concerns, revisions implemented by the 1991 Act have created regulatory barriers making recovery more difficult while also reducing the amounts some injured workers may claim. For example, the revised Act distinguishes occupational illness from injury. The distinction requires disclosure by workers suffering from occupational illness within shorter than ordinary time limits. Additionally, the new regime implements compensation formulas reducing the maximum amount of recovery for lower earning part-time and seasonal worker. The new Act also precludes injured workers from receiving hardship advances from attorneys as well as places restrictions on attorney compensation by limiting contingent fees to 25% or requiring employees pay hourly rates. Increasing the regulatory hurdles to secure compensation requires the need of legal representation yet make it more difficult and costly to secure counsel. The results are contrary to the purpose of having a workers’ compensation system. Whether through the courts or legislation, the Act requires further amendment.


St. Mary's University School of Law