Four years ago, a worker at a Giddings State School, a youth lockup just outside East Austin, expected a New Year’s Eve night to pass without incident. But just after midnight, the dorm inmates had engaged in a riot. They covered security cameras with grease, clogged everything that pumped water and raced around on the lockup grounds.
During the chaos, the worker grabbed the shirt of one of the sprinting youth inmates. The force nearly pulled the worker’s arm out of the socket and shoved her knee downwards into the concrete. The force of the impact fractured her knee and left severe nerve damage in her left arm, from the shoulder to the fingers. These days, the now-veteran worker spends her days cooped up in a rural Texas county, still having trouble walking and performing daily tasks, such as operating a vacuum or dressing herself in the morning, despite having already had corrective surgery.
What’s worse? The state is trying to sue this injured state worker, after being employed with the state for 20 years.
State Lawsuits Are Last-Ditch Efforts to Dispute Workers’ Comp Benefits
The risk management office originally paid most of the injured worker’s medical bills, kicking and screaming the entire time. Getting the risk management office (which was designed to insure the thousands of state employees who are injured while working) to cooperate was like pulling teeth. The office contested the extent of the worker’s injuries and the cause of them for every step of the process and cut off the benefits before the worker was given the opportunity to fully recover.
The office called the knee fracture a “strain” and the nerve damage to her shoulder “degenerative.” It also tried to say the injury did not occur on the job in addition to saying the injured worker had reached the “maximum medical improvement” long before the worker was healed—if you can call it that. She still struggles with her injury to this day.
However, the worker won her workers’ comp case in court and, nine months later, won the appeal the risk management office had filed against her. The judge ordered the office to pay all benefits the risk management office had withheld to allow the worker to properly recover. The injured worker thought she was done fighting. That is, until the risk management office sued her in hopes a district court would overturn the verdict and hold the worker liable for all court fees, which would be taken out of her workers’ comp fund.
Trumped Up Lawsuits from The Risk Management Office is Not Uncommon
Unfortunately, this type of situation is not necessarily unique in Texas courts. The Texas Office of Risk Management has taken more than 80 injured state workers to court in the last 10 years. According to The Texas Tribune, these types of lawsuits are generally a desperate attempt to dispute decisions regarding benefits awarded to injured workers.
When these types of lawsuits are filed, however, the injured workers generally don’t stand a chance. As it turns out, state agencies are not required to pay for attorney fees, which makes it extremely difficult for injured workers to find legal help in these cases. This worker, in particular, found a lawyer who took her case for free. Others are, unfortunately, not as lucky and many are left with nothing. The risk management office has been sanctioned twice for frivolous lawsuits against injured workers. Hopefully, the judge will sanction them again for this situation.