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Pesqueda v. Martinez

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 29, 2017

Selena PESQUEDA, Individually and on Behalf of Baltasar Pesqueda, Jr., Deceased, and as Next Friend of Derey Ramirez and Izayah Ramirez, Minors, Appellants
v.
Oscar Ramiro MARTINEZ, Appellee

         From the 57th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015CI05581 Honorable Richard Price, Judge Presiding.

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Karen Angelini, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.

         Baltasar Pesqueda, Jr. was the passenger in a company vehicle being driven by Oscar Ramiro Martinez when Martinez veered into oncoming traffic and collided with a tractor-trailer. Baltasar died as a result of the accident, and his beneficiaries were paid workers' compensation death benefits. In this appeal, Baltasar's wife, Selena Pesqueda, individually and on behalf of Baltasar, and as next friend of their minor children Derey Ramirez and Izayah Ramirez, contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Martinez because her receipt of the workers' compensation death benefits did not conclusively establish an affirmative defense in Martinez's favor. Specifically, Selena argues the summary judgment evidence did not conclusively establish Martinez was in the course and scope of his employment with the company at the time of the collision. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         On June 7, 2013, Baltasar, Martinez, Roy Longoria, Jr., and David Rendon were traveling to a job site in a vehicle owned by their employer Utility Lines Construction Services, Inc. (the "Company") with Martinez driving. Martinez veered into oncoming traffic and collided with a tractor-trailer. Baltasar died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the collision.

         Selena retained an attorney and filed a beneficiary claim for workers' compensation death benefits. After a dispute arose regarding Baltasar's average weekly wage, Selena's attorney requested a benefit review conference to resolve the dispute; however, the parties subsequently entered into a benefit dispute agreement. It is undisputed that the Company's insurance carrier paid Selena workers' compensation death benefits.[1]

         On April 6, 2015, Selena filed the underlying lawsuit alleging various claims against numerous defendants, including a negligence claim against Martinez. Martinez filed a motion for summary judgment asserting Selena's recovery of the workers' compensation death benefits was her exclusive remedy pursuant to section 408.001 of the Texas Workers' Compensation Act. Alternatively, Martinez asserted Selena's claim was barred by her election of remedies. The trial court granted Martinez's motion and severed Selena's claims against Martinez from her claims against the remaining defendants. Selena appeals.

         Standard of Review

         "We review the grant of [a] summary judgment de novo." Katy Venture, Ltd. v. Cremona Bistro Corp., 469 S.W.3d 160, 163 (Tex. 2015). To prevail on a traditional motion for summary judgment, the movant must show "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the [movant] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c). In reviewing a summary judgment, we take as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant, resolve all conflicts in the evidence in the nonmovant's favor, and indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Katy Venture, Ltd., 469 S.W.3d at 163.

         Exclusive Remedy

         The exclusive remedy provision set forth in section 408.001(a) of the Texas Workers' Compensation Act ("Act") provides:

Recovery of workers' compensation benefits is the exclusive remedy of an employee covered by workers' compensation insurance coverage or a legal beneficiary against the employer or the agent of the employer for the death of or a work-related injury sustained by the employee.

Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 408.001(a) (West 2015). "Historically, this exclusive remedy provision has provided a legislatively-crafted compromise that relieves employees of the burden of proving negligence to obtain relief for workplace injuries but, in return, they forego any remedies except as may be provided in the Act." Aguirre v. Vasquez, 225 S.W.3d 744, 750-51 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2007, no pet.); see also Port Elevator-Brownsville v. Casados, 358 S.W.3d 238, 241 (Tex. 2012) (noting legislature intended the Act to benefit both employees and employers).

         A. Parties' Arguments

         In her first issue, Selena acknowledges her receipt of workers' compensation death benefits calls into question the applicability of the exclusive remedy provision. However, Selena contends Martinez would only be entitled to rely on the exclusive remedy defense if he established that he was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision. Martinez responds Selena is "effectively estopped" to deny that Martinez was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision since it would be "illogical" to assert that, "unlike her husband, Mr. Martinez was not in the course and scope of his employment, while the two traveled together in the same vehicle, to the same designation and for the same purpose."

         B. Extension of Exclusive Remedies ...


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