HOUSTON – A Houston appeals court threw out a $17 million jury verdict against the contractor directing work on a pedestrian bridge at Baylor University where a worker drowned.

The court ruled that the family was legally barred from suing the contractor for negligence because the worker was covered by worker’s comp insurance through a program implemented by Baylor and its contractors. There also was no evidence the contractor was grossly negligent.

Austin Bridge & Road LP was the general contractor handling construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Brazos River to Baylor University’s McLane Stadium. In 2014, Jose Dario Suarez drowned after being pulled underwater when the hydraulic lift to which he was strapped rolled off a barge.

In 2016, a Harris County jury awarded the worker’s family $17 million. But the First Court of Appeals in Houston reversed and rendered judgment that the plaintiffs take nothing.

“This was a very sad accident, but the negligence claims never should have gone to a jury, and Mr. Suarez’s family did receive compensation through the insurance program,” said lead attorney Jessica Bargerof Wright Close Barger, a Houston appellate and litigation firm. “We are pleased with the outcome for our client.”

Assisting Ms. Barger in the appeal was Wright Close Barger partner Bradley Snead and associate Brian Cathey.

The appellate ruling was covered by Texas Lawbook in an article headlined, “Houston Appeals Court Reverses $17M Baylor Drowning Verdict” (subscription required), and by the Waco Tribune-Herald in “Appeals court overturns $17.7 million verdict in Baylor bridge drowning case.” Both stories quoted Ms. Barger.