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At a Glance:
Title:
Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Morgan
Date:
November 10, 1987
Citation:
745 S.W.2d 310
Court:
Texas Supreme Court
Status:
Published Opinion

Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Morgan

Supreme Court of Texas.

The STANDARD FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, Petitioner,

v.

Jimmie A. (Anne) MORGAN, Respondent.

No. C–5959.

|

Nov. 10, 1987.

Attorneys & Firms

*311 David B. Weinstein, Fulbright & Jaworski, Houston, for petitioner.

Thomas N. Thurlow, Thomas N. Thurlow & Associates, Inc., Houston, for respondent.

OPINION

HILL, Chief Justice.

We granted writ in this workers’ compensation case to review the court of appeals’ holding that prejudgment interest was recoverable on medical expenses owed. We reverse that holding, but otherwise affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

On June 27, 1979, Jimmie Morgan was injured while working as a salesperson for Jim Walters Homes. The Standard Fire Insurance Company, which provided workers’ compensation insurance for Jim Walters Homes, paid Morgan compensation benefits and some of her medical expenses. Morgan filed suit to obtain additional compensation and medical benefits from Standard.

Following a jury trial, the trial court rendered judgment that Standard pay Morgan $26,460 for past due compensation benefits, $3,078 for the prejudgment interest that accrued on the past due benefits, $6,854 for medical expenses that Standard had refused to pay, all of her future medical expenses, and $9,095 for attorneys’ fees. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment in part and reversed and remanded in part. 718 S.W.2d 880. Standard argues that the judgment of the court of appeals should be reversed because (1) there was no evidence to support the jury’s finding that Morgan had good cause for filing her claim late; (2) Morgan did not properly establish her average weekly wage rate; and, (3) Morgan is not entitled to recover prejudgment interest on her medical expenses.

TIMELINESS OF MORGAN’S CLAIM

When Morgan’s injury occurred, the Workers’ Compensation Act provided that an injured employee could not initiate a proceeding for compensation or medical benefits unless he either filed a claim before the Industrial Accident Board within six months of his injury or showed good cause for filing an untimely claim. TEX.REV.CIV.STAT.ANN. art. 8307, § 4a (Vernon 1967): see Lee v. Houston Fire and Casualty Ins. Co., 530 S.W.2d 294, 296 (Tex.1975). In this case, the jury found that Morgan was injured on June 28, 1979. The trial court determined that, as a matter of law, Morgan filed a claim with the Industrial Accident Board on July 22, 1980. Neither of these findings is disputed by either party. However, Standard does contend that there is no evidence to support the jury’s finding that Morgan had good cause for filing her claim nearly 13 months after her injury. We disagree.

In determining whether there is any evidence to support a jury’s finding, “an appellate court must consider only the evidence and the inferences tending to support the finding and disregard all evidence and inferences to the contrary.” Lee, 530 S.W.2d at 297 (reliance on employer’s statements may constitute good cause for filing late). We therefore affirm the court of appeals’ judgment to the extent it held that there was some evidence of good cause for Morgan’s late filing.

MORGAN’S AVERAGE WEEKLY WAGE RATE

The amount of past due compensation benefits that an injured employee is entitled to recover is based, in part, on his *312 average weekly wage rate; thus, he cannot recover any past due benefits in excess of the minimum statutory benefits unless he properly establishes his average weekly wage. See, e.g., Aetna Ins. Co. v. Gidden, 476 S.W.2d 664, 665 (Tex.1972). Standard argues that Morgan should not be allowed to recover past due compensation benefits because her average weekly wage rate was not legally established. We disagree.

Pursuant to TEX.R.CIV.P. 169(2). As incontestable facts, these admissions establish that Morgan’s average weekly wage rate was, as a matter of law, at least $346. TEX.REV.CIV.STAT.ANN. art. 8309, § 1(2) (Vernon 1967).

Of course, a jury could not award Morgan a greater average weekly wage rate than the rate she pleaded. E.g., Socony Vacuum Oil Co. v. Aderhold, 150 Tex. 292, 300, 240 S.W.2d 751, 756 (1951) (judgment must conform to the pleadings). In her pleading, Morgan claimed her wage rate had been $60 a day. Thus, under her pleadings, a jury could not have awarded her a weekly wage rate in excess of $346. Therefore, because Standard could not argue that Morgan’s average weekly wage rate was less than $346 and Morgan was not entitled to receive more than $346, we hold that Morgan’s average weekly wage rate was established at $346 as a matter of law.

At the time of Morgan’s injury, an employee with an average weekly wage rate of $346 was entitled to receive $105 in compensation benefits for each week of total incapacity. TEX.REV.CIV.STAT.ANN. art. 8306, §§ 10, 29 (Vernon Supp.1987). Thus, Morgan was entitled to $105 in benefits for each week she was totally incapacitated. And, given the jury’s finding that Morgan only had a weekly earning capacity of $150 during the time she was partially incapacitated, Morgan was also entitled to receive $105 for each week she was partially incapacitated. TEX.REV.CIV.STAT.ANN. art. 8306, §§ 11, 29 (Vernon Supp.1987).

The trial court’s judgment that Morgan was entitled to $26,460 for past due compensation benefits was based on the jury’s finding that Morgan’s average weekly wage rate was $375. Using the average weekly wage rate of $375 in its calculations of Morgan’s compensation benefits, the trial court determined that Morgan was entitled to receive $105 for each week she was either totally or partially incapacitated. The trial court then calculated the amount of benefits due Morgan by multiplying $105 times the number of weeks she was either totally or partially incapacitated.

Although the trial court should have used the $346 wage rate established as a matter of law to calculate Morgan’s compensation benefits rather than submitting an issue to the jury, the trial court correctly concluded that Morgan was entitled to receive $105 for each week she was partially or totally incapacitated. Accordingly, Standard had no basis for complaining against the trial court’s calculation of the weekly benefits due Morgan. We therefore affirm, although on different grounds, the judgment of the court of appeals insofar as it upholds Standard’s liability for Morgan’s compensation benefits.

*313 PREJUDGMENT INTEREST ON MEDICAL EXPENSES

Morgan argues that she is entitled to recover prejudgment interest on all the medical expenses she incurred prior to the trial court’s judgment. Relying on Cavnar v. Quality Control Parking Inc., 696 S.W.2d 549 (Tex.1985), the court of appeals held that Morgan was entitled to recover prejudgment interest on the $6,845.00 in medical expenses which Standard had not paid prior to the trial court’s judgment. Standard argues that Morgan cannot recover any prejudgment interest on her medical expenses because the Workers’ Compensation Act does not permit recovery of such interest. We agree.

Although Martinez v. Highlands Ins. Co., 644 S.W.2d 442, 442 (Tex.1982). Unlike the Wrongful Death Act discussed in Cavnar, the Legislature has enacted an exact compensation scheme within the Workers’ Compensation Act. The court of appeals’ reliance on Cavnar under the circumstances of this case is misplaced. Thus, Morgan is not entitled to recover prejudgment interest on any of the medical expenses she incurred. Id.

Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals’ judgment in part and render judgment that Morgan is not entitled to any prejudgment interest on her medical expenses. We affirm all other aspects of the judgment of the court of appeals.

ROBERTSON, J., concurs and dissents in an opinion joined by RAY and MAUZY, JJ.

ROBERTSON, Justice, concurring and dissenting.

Although I concur with the majority on the issues of good cause and average weekly wage rate, I respectfully dissent from the majority’s treatment of prejudgment interest on Morgan’s unpaid medical expenses.

The court of appeals justified its award of prejudgment interest on unpaid medical expenses by relying on this Court’s opinion in art. 8306a is silent as to prejudgment interest on unpaid medical expenses, if we disallow this element of compensation, we will run afoul of our holdings in both Cavnar and Navarette. Not only will Standard be afforded the luxury of using Morgan’s money interest free for nearly three years, but, moreover, we will extinguish a form of compensation rightly available under a broad reading of the Act.

As for Morgan’s pleadings for prejudgment interest, they were sufficient to sustain such an award. Morgan prayed for “the amount alleged due for medical, nursing and hospital services, and medicine, plus all interest due ...” (emphasis added). Such a pleading is clearly distinguishable from those under which prejudgment interest has been denied. See Texas Indus. v. Lucas, 715 S.W.2d 683, 687 (Tex.App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1986, no writ) (prayer for general relief insufficient by itself to support prejudgment interest award).

Accordingly, I dissent from the majority’s treatment of the issue of prejudgment interest on Morgan’s unpaid medical expenses.

RAY and MAUZY, JJ., join in this concurring and dissenting opinion.

End of Document
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