EA Wins Another Trial – $528,000 in Workers Comp. Retaliation and Fraudulent Misrepresentation Case

It’s a bummer for an evil supervisor when the “undocumented worker” you hurt on the job is actually documented and shows back up to jam Texas law down your throat. Next time, take care of your personnel and don’t hide the workers comp insurance you pay for. Try some empathy too.

Great verdict for HF in the amount of $528,000 for workers comp retaliation and fraudulent misrepresentation. Thank you Richard Hinojosa and his firm for trusting me with the case and for the invaluable help in trial.

This case was referred to me as a personal injury case in 2019, and we quickly leaned the claim was comp-barred. However, upon interviewing the client, he had a great story and good evidence of workers’ comp retaliation. The facts were that Henry Frometa, a recent Cuban immigrant, got a job working at the Defendant car wash in August 2016. When he started there, he naturally became acquainted with his co-workers, who were Spanish speaking immigrants like himself. HF came legally to the US, but many of his co-workers were undocumented. He learned the car wash brass preferred this for many reasons, one being the undocumented workers would simply go away if injured or had any other employment issue.

The key incident involved a towel dryer that was broken during the entire seven-month period HF worked at the car wash. Instead of spending a few hundred bucks to repair the brake responsible for stopping the high-RPM dryer drum, the seemingly evil car wash management trained HF and other employees to wrap towels around their palms and stop the 3,000 RPM drum by grabbing the lip of the cylinder with their hands.

One day, HF was teaching a new-hire this method, and his arm was sucked into the dryer – bone through skin, gruesome injury. The highly-visible incident and aftermath were known to management, yet they never opened the WC claim as they were required to do under the law. HF then showed up a week later with his x-rays and wearing a sling. He tried to communicate his need for WC, but the car wash did nothing for him but send him his final check. There were about five total events in evidence wherein the car wash was on notice of the injury (triggering the duty to report), but seemed to consciously choose not to initiate a claim.

A pivotal moment in the trial came when Leigh Montgomery of my firm was crossing the owner/manager of the car wash. Her off-script line of questioning was attempting to show the witness should have understood that a recently arrived immigrant would need to rely on management for guidance in certain situations. It came off like this:

“You are an immigrant to the US yourself, correct?”

“Yes, but…[incredulous body language suggesting he is not the same as the car wash personnel].

“You certainly had a job at some point in Pakistan?”

“No. I was in the army in Pakistan and attained the rank of colonel, so I was in charge most of the time as an officer.”

“Well, certainly you have had a job in the US where you’ve had to report to a supervisor.”

[A smug smile and shake of the head] “No, no. I’ve always owned companies and have been the supervisor.”

This guy came across as pompous and aristocratic – just the sort of person who wouldn’t care to tell a laborer about workers’ comp or expect him to need it; just the sort of person who would hope and expect a laborer who didn’t know any better to simply go away after suffering an on-the-job injury.

The car spa was pretty much cooked after this little unexpected nugget.