Most lists of supremely influential heads of government in European history contain the name of Otto von Bismarck. After a confederation of German states under his leadership decisively defeated France, which had sought to restore its hegemony on the Continent, he orchestrated the unification of Germany in 1871 and served as its first chancellor for the next two decades, dominating European diplomatic affairs.

killful in domestic politics as well, he gained working class support by creating the first welfare state in modern history.  Among the sickness, disability and old age measures he successfully promoted was “An Act for Insurance Against Accidents” (1884) which reportedly inspired similar laws governing compensation for workplace injuries elsewhere in Europe and later in the United States.

Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance providing assured but limited monetary awards to cover an employee’s loss of wages stemming from a work-related injury and to redress for permanent physical impairments and medical expenses.  In exchange, the system requires the employee to forego the right to sue their employer for negligence and thus give up potentially  lucrative pain-and-suffering jury verdicts.

The trade-off between guaranteed coverage and no recourse outside the system ostensibly addresses a couple of problems.  For one, employers beset by high damage awards might become insolvent and go out of business with a resulting loss of many jobs.  For another, claims for worker injuries in the United States are commonly limited by several tort defenses.  An employer may escape liability to the extent (a) an injury was wholly or partially caused by a co-worker, (b) the injured employee failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid injury, or (c) the injured employee voluntarily accepted the risks associated with the work.

Robert Stevenson was hired by Taylor Smith Consulting LLC, (TSC) a temporary staffing agency. TSC assigned Stevenson to work on a short-term basis for Waste Management of Texas, Inc. (WMT). The arrangement, however, was a bit more complicated.

The assignment of Stevenson to WMT was subject to a contract between TSC and Waste Management National Services, Inc. (WMNS) known as the “Master Agreement.” (WMT and WMNS are affiliated corporations, although court records do not make clear their exact legal relationship.)  Although WMT is not a party to the Master Agreement, TSC has assigned hundreds of workers to WMT under it.

In May 2014, Stevenson was working on a WMT garbage truck.  While the truck was servicing one of its usual collection routes, the driver, Rigoberto Zelaya, a WMT employee, accidentally backed the truck over Stevenson’s leg and foot, seriously injuring him.  Both WMT and TSC carried workers compensation insurance for their employees. Stevenson applied for benefits under TSC’s workers compensation policy.  He also sued WMT and Zelaya, alleging negligence. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Stevenson was, for workers compensation purposes, WMT’s employee at the time of the accident and thus the adjudication process under the state Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA) provided the exclusive remedy for his injury claim.  Stevenson filed a cross-motion for summary judgment stating that no evidence existed that he was WMT’s employee. He relied primarily on the Master  Agreement, which refers to temporary laborers like Stevenson as WMT independent contractors.