Booth v. Texas Employers' Ins. Ass'n

Decision Date07 December 1938
Docket NumberNo. 1768-7415.,1768-7415.
Citation123 S.W.2d 322
CourtTexas Supreme Court

In this case and in three other cases (Robinson v. Commercial Standard Insurance Company, Tex.Com.App., 123 S.W.2d 337, Aetna Casualty & Surety Company v. Ware, Tex.Com.App., 123 S.W.2d 332, and Federal Underwriters Exchange v. Cost, Tex.Com.App., 123 S.W.2d 332), all submitted at the same time, the important question presented is whether it is necessary, as a predicate for jurisdiction of the court in which suit may be filed to set aside a final ruling and decision of the Industrial Accident Board upon a claim for compensation filed with the board by an injured employee under the Workmen's Compensation Act, Vernon's Ann.Civ.St. art. 8306, et seq., that the claim as filed with the board state the amount claimed by the employee in dollars and cents or facts from which such amount can definitely be determined.

Because of conflicts in the recent decisions and in statements contained in earlier opinions by Courts of Civil Appeals and the Commission of Appeals, and in view of the necessity for a certain rule with respect to the jurisdiction of the trial courts in such suits, the statutory provisions and the decisions have been fully reviewed and the question has been carefully considered and discussed by the members of the court and the commissioners.

We have reached the conclusion that the true rule is that announced in the dissenting opinion by Associate Justice Looney in this case in the Court of Civil Appeals, 113 S.W.2d 231, 238, and in the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals at Beaumont by Chief Justice Walker (then Associate Justice) in Texas Indemnity Company v. White, 37 S.W.2d 277, followed by the same court in Texas Employers' Insurance Association v. Moore, 46 S.W.2d 404. The rule as to suits filed by an injured employee is that the amount of the claim before the Industrial Accident Board is immaterial upon the issue of jurisdiction of the court selected to review the award, the only essential jurisdictional connection between the claim for compensation before the board and the suit to set aside the award being the identity of the injury of which complaint is made.

In the instant case Gus Booth, the injured employee, made and filed with the Industrial Accident Board a claim for compensation, in which he stated that he claimed compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Law, gave the name of his employer, stated the time, place and cause of his injury, his wages, the number of days per week that he worked, the length of time regularly employed in the same employment previous to the injury, and described the nature of his injury as follows: "I strained and sprained my back and sides, and received a hernia which appeared suddenly, caused intense pain and nausea. I had never before had this hernia in any degree". The Industrial Accident Board, after hearing and considering the claim, made its final ruling and decision denying the claim for compensation and discharging the insurer from liability on account of the claim. Within the time fixed by the statute Booth gave the required notice that he would not abide by such final ruling and decision and within twenty days after giving such notice filed suit in the district court of Grayson County, where the injury occurred, to set aside the board's ruling and decision. In his petition filed in district court Booth gave the same description of the time, place, cause and general nature of his injury as that contained in the claim but enlarged the general description of the nature of the injury by setting out further the physical injuries resulting from the accident and alleged that by reason of his injury he had been totally incapacitated to labor and that such total incapacity was permanent. He prayed for recovery of compensation for 401 weeks for total and permanent disability in accordance with his average weekly wages of $7.20 and for lump sum recovery and, in the alternative only, for recovery of compensation for a shorter period should it be determined that he was not entitled to compensation based on total and permanent incapacity.

The insurer's plea to the jurisdiction of the court was heard and overruled, and, after trial and verdict, judgment was rendered in favor of Booth against the insurer, Texas Employers' Insurance Association for $2615.56. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment of the district court and dismissed the suit. Tex.Civ.App., 113 S.W.2d 231. In so doing it followed Commercial Standard Insurance Company v. Robinson, as decided by the Fort Worth Court of Civil Appeals, 91 S.W.2d 1147, and held, Associate Justice Looney dissenting, that the plea to the jurisdiction should have been sustained by the district court because the claim filed with the Industrial Accident Board contained no statement of the amount of the claim and failed to give information or data from which it could be determined that the claim was for as much as $500.

Looking first to the statute, the Workmen's Compensation Law as set out in Articles 8306 to 8309 of the Revised Civil Statutes of 1925, as amended, Vernon's Ann.Civ.St. arts. 8306-8309, we find that the first step required to be taken by the injured employee seeking compensation under the law is to give notice of his injury either to the insurer or to the employer, Section 4a of Article 8307 providing that "unless the association or subscriber have notice of the injury, no proceeding for compensation for injury under this law shall be maintained unless a notice of the injury shall have been given to the association or subscriber within thirty days after the happening thereof, and unless a claim for compensation with respect to such injury shall have been made within six months after the occurrence of same." No particular form or manner of notice is required, the object of the provision for timely notice being to enable the insurer to make its own investigation of the facts upon which the employee grounds his claim for compensation. Texas Employers' Insurance Association v. Bradshaw, Tex.Civ.App., 27 S.W. 2d 314, application for writ of error refused. The law contemplates that after receipt of such notice the insurer shall begin the making of the required payments without any proceeding before the Industrial Accident Board, as Subdivision 3b of Article 8306 imposes upon the insurer the duty to pay the compensation provided by the law to the employee injured in the course of his employment if the employer is a subscriber at the time of the injury. In the event payment is not made, the employee resorts to the board for relief by making to the board a claim for compensation. Neither in that part of Section 4a of Article 8307 above quoted nor elsewhere in the law is the manner or form for making claim prescribed. Following the making of claim, if there is no settlement by agreement of the parties, the board hears and considers the claim for compensation and makes its final ruling and decision (Section 5 of Article 8307, as amended by Chapter 224, Acts Regular Session 42nd Legislature, Vernon's Ann.Civ.St. art. 8307, § 5). The board is authorized to make rules not inconsistent with the law for carrying out and enforcing its provisions, may require a claimant to submit himself for examination, has power to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, inquire into matters of fact, and examine relevant parts of books and records of the parties. It is provided that "process and procedure shall be as summary as may be under this Law" (Section 4 of Article 8307, as amended by Chapter 102, Acts Regular Session, 42nd Legislature, Vernon's Ann.Civ.St. art. 8307, § 4). No provision is made in the law for pleadings or for formality of procedure before the board.

Section 5 of Article 8307 relates to the filing of suit to set aside the final ruling and decision of the board. The pertinent language of that section (as amended by Chapter 224, Acts Regular Session 42nd Legislature) is as follows:

"Any interested party who is not willing and does not consent to abide by the final ruling and decision of said Board shall within twenty (20) days after the rendition of said final ruling and decision by said Board, file with said Board notice that he will not abide by said final ruling and decision. And he shall within twenty (20) days after giving such notice bring suit in the county where the injury occurred to set aside said final ruling and decision and said Board shall proceed no further toward the adjustment of such claim, other than hereinafter provided. Whenever such suit is brought, the rights and liability of the parties thereto shall be determined by the provision of this law and the suit of the injured employe or person suing on account of the death of such employe shall be against the association if the employer of such injured or deceased employe at the time of such injury or death was a subscriber as defined in this law. If the final order of the Board [is] against the association, then the association and not the employer shall bring suit to set aside said final ruling and decision of the Board, if it so desires, and the Court shall in...

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