State News : Texas

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The Texas Supreme Court announced this month that it has set a workers’ compensation death benefits case for oral argument.  InChicas v. Texas Mutual Insurance Company, the issue is whether a court lacks jurisdiction to review the DWC’s decision in a death benefits case if the claimant files the appeal in a probate court and does not file it in a district court until after expiration of the 45-day deadline in Labor Code section 410.252(a).

Santiago Chicas was cleaning rain gutters at the home of his employer’s president when he fell from a ladder and died. His widow, Bertilla, filed a claim for death benefits and, when Texas Mutual denied the claim, she initiated a proceeding at the DWC to resolve the issue. She also filed a wrongful death action in Harris County Probate Court Number 2.

An Administrative Law Judge at DWC found that Santiago was not in the course and scope of his employment and denied Bertilla’s claim for benefits and the DWC Appeals Panel allowed the decision to become final. Within the 45-day time limit for filing a petition for judicial review, Bertilla amended her petition in the probate court to include her claim for judicial review of the DWC’s decision. Five months later, Texas Mutual filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the probate court granted. Bertilla then filed a petition for judicial review in the Harris County District Court. Texas Mutual filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the district court granted. The Houston Court of Appeals (1st. Dist.) reversed the trial court judgment and Texas Mutual appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

The outcome of the case turns on whether the 45-day deadline in section 410.252(a) is jurisdictional or merely mandatory. The courts of appeal are divided on this issue – at least one court has said that it is jurisdictional while others have said that it is not. Hopefully the Texas Supreme Court will resolve the conflict.

Oral argument is set for January 22, 2019.

-  Copyright 2018,David L. SwansonStone Loughlin & Swanson, LLP.