ERISA Does Not Preempt State Law Negligence in Texas Nonsubscriber Cases–Fort Worth, Texas Non Subscriber Defense Attorneys

In McAteer v. Silverleaf Resorts, Inc., 514 F.3d 411 (5th Cir. 2008) the United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit , rejected arguments by a Nonsubscriber to Texas workers’ compensation that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) preempts state law on the issue of liability in a negligence claim.

The Plaintiff in that case alleged that she suffered a job-related injury when she tripped over a parking block while using a landscape trimmer in July 2005.  She fell on her back and was later diagnosed with a herniated disc that required surgery. She allegedly did not report the on the job injury to her employer and left employment with the company in August 2005. She did not notify the employer of the injury until September 2005, some two months after the alleged injury.

The Plaintiff’s claim was denied by her employer. The reasons offered by the employer for the denial included the following:  because she did not report the injury in a timely manner, because did not she seek advance approval for her medical treatment and because she did not use a plan-approved medical provider.

Plaintiff filed suit against her employer in Texas state court alleging that the employer’s failure to provide a safe place to work caused her injuries. Her employer was a Nonsubscriber under Texas workers’ compensation law. The employer removed the suit to federal court asserting that federal subject matter jurisdiction existed because ERISA preempted Plaintiff’s causes of action. Plaintiff filed a motion to remand. Plaintiff put forth the argument that ERISA did not preempt her causes of action because she was alleging state law negligence claims only.

The district court ruled that ERISA barred Plaintiff’s injury claims and dismissed her case.

On appeal, the U.S. Circuit Judge’s opinion stated that state law negligence claims for failing to maintain a safe workplace are independent of ERISA.

In the court’s opinion, the judge stated that Plaintiff’s claim under Texas law was preserved despite the fact that she added an ERISA claim to her action after it was dismissed by the district court. The judge ruled that Plaintiff’s “state law negligence claims in this case are not pre-empted by ERISA and must be remanded,” and that “she did not make her argument moot by adding an ERISA claim,” thereby reversing and remanding the district court decision.

The long range impact of McAteer will likely include keeping nonsubscriber cases in Texas, based in allegations of negligence, largely within the purview of our Texas state courts.

Williams, McClure & Parmelee is dedicated to high quality legal representation of businesses and insurance companies in a variety of matters. We are experienced Fort Worth, Texas nonsubscriber attorneys in Tarrant County who know Texas courts and Texas law. For more information, please contact the law firm at 817-335-8800. The firm’s office location is 5601 Bridge Street, Suite 300, Fort Worth, Texas 76112.

Martindale AVtexas[2]