A recent Texas Supreme Court decision to limit contract workers to workers’ compensation benefits when they are injured at a plant they are visiting puts the burden of recovery on the workers and protects corporate wrongdoers, says the United Steelworkers union (USW). The union urges a rehearing of the case, Entergy v. Summers.

“This decision rewards negligent employers who fail to maintain a safe workplace,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers. “Without the ability to sue companies where they work when they get injured, the contractors end up shouldering the cost of their injuries and the employers avoid liability except for the cost of workers’ compensation coverage.

Beevers stated that if Entergy v. Summers had been in effect when the BP explosion occurred at Texas City in March 2005, BP would have escaped at least $1.5 billion in liability, and “we would have never known the extent of the corporation’s wrongdoing.”

“It was only through the legal process that we were able to get access to documents that revealed the company’s disregard for safety,” Beevers said.

The Texas Supreme Court, according to USW, removed a major incentive for employers to maintain a safe workplace — the threat of litigation.

“This threat is the only way we can force companies to make dangerous workplaces safer,” said USW International Vice President Tom Conway. “Regulation and enforcement is practically nonexistent under the Bush administration. OSHA did not perform a single comprehensive planned inspection at a single refinery in the entire country between 1995 and 2005.”

Texas statute mandates that the Court interpret the Labor Code to promote public over private interests. The Court’s decision goes against this by benefiting large corporations, said USW.

In 2001, John Summers was injured in an accident while working at Entergy's Sabine Station plant as an employee of a contractor hired by Entergy. In addition to his workers’ compensation claim, he tried to sue the company for negligence. The Texas Supreme Court overturned an appellate ruling in his favor, establishing that Entergy, as the "premises owner," also qualified as a "general contractor." Because Summers was covered by workers’ compensation purchased by Entergy, the company was immune from injury lawsuits, the ruling said.