What becomes of the Texas legal system when the laws that are written to protect the people of Texas become a mockery of corporate indulgence? The answer to that question is found in the recent court rulings handed down by the Texas Supreme Court.
By issuing rulings that undermine the ability of injured workers to sue for monetary damages the Texas Supreme Court expands the rights of insurance companies while decreasing the rights of the people of Texas. In a further move to allow insurance companies to dodge hefty monetary awards, the court has washed its hands of what is essentially their duty. The Texas Supreme Court granted 100 percent Jurisdiction over the workers compensation system and workers compensation case to the Texas Department of Insurance. Even when it is clear that the insurance company intentionally misled or misrepresented the policies, The Texas Supreme Court refuses to act and insurers become protected from lawsuits by High court ruling.
Expanding the Power of the Insurance Industry
Good systems operate by a system of checks and balances. What the Texas Supreme Court has done is to grant power to the Texas Department of Insurance to administratively sanction insurers. In so doing, it also prevents injured workers from suing for damages, thus eliminating the system check and opening the door for unsafe work situations. It becomes a matter of weighing the administrative penalty against the risk of making profits.
In 1998, Glenn Johnson worked in a smelting factory in Amarillo. He was severely burned while working when a smelter exploded, showering him with liquefied metal. His resulting injuries included second and third-degree burns to his upper body; including his face, neck, and back. He also received burns to his legs and arms to such an extent that one arm had to be surgically amputated, and the other arm was so injured that it has very little strength. Today, Glenn Johnson’s body is heavily scarred, and to look at his scars is to read his story, but as bad as those scars are, they are nothing in comparison to the wounds and scars that he has had to live with just to receive medical care that is his right under Texas State Law.
Glenn Johnson — His case and His Injuries
An example of what Glenn Johnson has had to endure comes to light as he tells of the arrest of both he and his wife; following a grand jury indictment for insurance fraud. The insurance company, Old Republic, filed the criminal complaint. Old Republic is the company that was supposed to be providing funding for Glenn’s medical care. As part of his recovery, he was to travel several hours from home to a gym and exercise his arm. The nearest gym was two hours away, and Glenn’s injuries left him with only one arm, which was severely weakened. Such injuries mean that someone must drive Glenn several hours to the gym. The issuance of the criminal complaint was because insurance adjusters could not find any record of Glenn using an electronic keycard to open the gym’s front door. The insurance company falsely claimed that Glenn and his wife had falsified travel records and thus committed insurance fraud. The legal cased presented in court was quickly overturned. Glenn’s lawyers were able to present signed affidavits from workers at the gym that indicated that Glenn had indeed been there for therapy and that the workers had opened the door for him. His injuries would not allow him to use the keycard to open the door. A fact that could have easily been confirmed if the insurance adjusters had checked. The point was likely not to offer Glenn continued medical coverage, but instead to end the costs associated with Glenn’s ongoing medical care. What the Texas Supreme Court has done is to protect insurers from lawsuits by the high court ruling.
When Glenn hired attorneys to defend himself and to sue the insurance company, the case went to the Texas Supreme Court where it was denied. In so doing, the Texas Supreme Court expands the legal protection for insurance companies. This is not the first case where such rulings impose additional protection to Insurance companies. In 1989, Texas Mutual Insurance Co. v. Ruttiger established a landmark ruling that placed the power to handle “bad faith” claims and claim handling directly with the Division of Workers Compensation. The Division of Workers Compensation is part of the Insurance Department and the ruling created a conflict of interest. Yet, the decision from the Texas Supreme Court to throw out Glenn Johnson’s case further expanded the role that the Insurance Department plays by bundling acts of misrepresentation and malicious prosecution under the title of “bad faith.”
Predatory Use of the Judicial System
In Johnson’s case, his attorneys showed documented patterns of insurance deception and linked those actions to the use of the Judicial system as a tool to punish victims. Their argument that such actions were above the ruling handed down in Texas Mutual Insurance Co. v. Ruttiger was also denied furthering the suffering that Glenn Johnson has already endured. The power to handle such wrongdoing is fully held by the Office of the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Even if the Division of Workers Compensation were to issue fines to Old Republic for abuse, none of the money from those fines would find its way to Glenn Johnson. Glenn Johnson still must live with his severe injuries, pain, suffering, and a broken life. The Texas Supreme Court has turned its back on the workers of Texas. This ruling allows Texas workers to have fewer rights than objects such as a car or truck. It gets worse though. Not only have Texas workers lost more of their rights, but the Texas Supreme Court has removed the check for insurance companies to deal fairly with Texans who file claims. Is Glenn Johnson’s case the new norm?