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Dallas�Blocking one of the few remaining pathways for employees to sue for workers’ compensation, a Texas appellate court has ruled that all tiers of subcontractors on a construction work site are immune from such suits. In a case of first impression, Etie v. Walsh & Albert Co., the state 1st Court of Appeals in Houston ruled that the statutory employer-employee relationship extends to even the lowest-tier “subcontractors,” including “independent contractors,” in protecting employers from suits, but allows injured employees to collect workers’ compensation benefits. More than 10 years ago, the Texas Legislature passed workers’ compensation reform legislation�the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act�to limit the ability of injured employees to file suits against their employers and instead allow employers to provide broad workers’ compensation insurance coverage for those workers. The act mandates that recovering workers’ compensation benefits is the sole remedy for an employee covered by workers’ compensation insurance. But the question remained as to how far the law goes in covering the lowest tier of subcontractors on a job site, according to the opinion. According to the opinion, Sheldon Etie was a subcontractor working on Enron Corp. Building No. 2 in 2001 when he was injured by a plenum that fell from the ceiling and struck him. A Walsh & Albert employee allegedly installed the plenum. Etie sued Walsh & Albert, contending the company was not a “subcontractor” but an independent contractor that was not entitled to immunity from suit. Harris County District Judge Bruce Oakley granted Walsh & Albert’s summary judgment motion and Etie appealed. In its opinion, the appellate court said that the insurance policy purchased by the Clark Construction Group, the general contractor on the work site, covered all of the employees-including independent contractors-who worked on the site and made Walsh & Albert immune from suit. “We are persuaded that the purposes of the Act are best served by deeming immune from suit all subcontractors and lower-tier subcontractors who are collectively covered by workers’ compensation insurance,” wrote Justice Evelyn Keyes in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Sherry Radack and Justice Elsa Alcala. “We hold that the Act’s deemed employer/employee relationship extends throughout all tiers of subcontractors when the general contractor has purchased workers’ compensation insurance that covers all of the workers on the site,” Keyes wrote.

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