Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso
BRYAN P. FERRELL, Appellant,
THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYSTEM, Appellee.
from the 120th District Court of El Paso County, Texas (TC#
McClure, C.J., Rodriguez, and Palafox, JJ.
T. RODRIGUEZ, Justice
the cost of higher education on the rise each year, more
college-aged adults find that they are not only students of
their chosen university; they are also their university's
part-time employees. As this case illustrates, student
employment is not always free from occupational hazards. The
question of what happens when a student-employee is injured
on the job forms the backdrop for this dispute over the
amount of workers' compensation a public university in
the University of Texas System may owe a student worker.
case, the Texas Department of Insurance Division of
Workers' Compensation (DWC or the Division) awarded
Appellant Bryan Ferrell workers' compensation benefits
totaling 75 percent of the weekly wage he earned during his
undergraduate student employment with the University of Texas
at El Paso (UTEP), basing the decision in part on an
anticipated increase in wages Ferrell would have received had
he accepted continued student employment with UTEP at the
graduate school level. See Tex.Lab.Code Ann. §
408.044(a)(3)(requiring an upward wage adjustment for student
employees whose ability to find additional employment was
limited by the pursuit of education but whose wages were
anticipated to increase during the comp period). The district
court, sitting on appeal, reduced Ferrell's award to 60
percent of his student wages he earned at the point of
injury, believing that notwithstanding the provision allowing
for an upward adjustment of benefits for student workers,
Section 503.021(b) of the Texas Labor Code set a 60 percent
maximum benefits cap on all part-time UT System employees.
See Tex.Lab.Code Ann. § 503.021(b). The tension
between the student worker wage adjustment provision and the
UT System part-time workers provision forms the basis of this
that the student worker adjustment provision does require
upward adjustment of Ferrell's calculated average weekly
wages, but that his benefit recovery is capped at 60 percent
of the adjusted average weekly wage amount. We reverse and
remand for further proceedings.
facts underlying this case are largely undisputed. Ferrell
was an undergraduate student in his senior year at UTEP,
seeking a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Although
teaching assistantships were ordinarily reserved for masters-
and doctoral-level students, Ferrell was offered a teaching
assistantship as an undergrad. Ferrell had also been
conditionally accepted into UTEP's chemistry PhD program.
cleaning a UTEP lab, Ferrell sustained chemical burns of the
cornea and conjunctival sac of his right eye and a
superficial injury to the cornea of his left eye when a flask
of acid exploded near his face. Ferrell lost use of an eye.
He was later diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder.
UTEP does not contest the legitimacy, nature, extent, cause,
or compensability of Ferrell's injuries.
filed a workers' compensation claim with the University
of Texas System, of which UTEP is a component institution.
The UT System accepted Ferrell's claim and admitted
he suffered physical and psychological injuries, but it
contested the amount of compensation Ferrell requested as
well his contention that he suffered a disability from
October 27, 2012 to July 31, 2014, in administrative
proceedings before the Division. Prior to the Division's
ruling, UTEP had been paying Ferrell $34.70 a week in
Division made the following rulings:
• Ferrell was a student and not an employee with UTEP.
• Ferrell's average weekly wage as a teaching
assistant was $153.40. His average weekly wage was calculated
to increase to $300.12, and the evidence established it was
reasonable to expect the wages to change during the three
years following the injury.
Division's Appeals Panel affirmed the decision.
the administrative process was exhausted, UTEP and Ferrell
both filed appeal lawsuits in district court, which were
later consolidated. The parties filed cross-motions for
summary judgment based partly on stipulated facts. UTEP
argued in its motion for summary judgment that Ferrell's
recovery was capped at sixty percent of his average weekly
wages. The trial court granted UTEP's motion for summary
judgment and denied Ferrell's summary
judgment. In its judgment, the trial court set
benefits at $92.04 a week-precisely 60 percent of the
unadjusted $153.40 a week wage.