Attorneys should think twice before relying on an admission regarding a party's employment status. The Dallas Court of Appeals recently held that discovery admissions are not binding on legal issues, and do not raise a genuine issue of material fact on questions of law. In this case, the plaintiff sued the City of Dallas for injuries sustained on the job. The plaintiff was employed by a staffing company and paid by the City through the staffing company based on hours worked. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction and the issue came down to whether the plaintiff was an "employee" allowing the City to invoke the workers compensation bar. The City claimed the plaintiff was an employee because it controlled the details of the plaintiff's work and paid the plaintiff by the hour through the staffing company. The plaintiff countered that he was an independent contractor because the City did not provide him with all of his equipment and did not control the details of work. The plaintiff also relied on two discovery responses in which the City, in disputing the plaintiff's entitlement to workers' compensation benefits, "admitted" the plaintiff was an independent contractor and was not a borrowed servant.
Despite these "admissions," the Court held that "[plaintiff's] employment status with the city is a question of law based on the undisputed facts regarding the City's right to control the details of [plaintiff's] work." The Court noted that admissions "are not binding, nor do they create a fact issue" on questions of law. As a result, the Court reversed the trial court and rendered judgment for the City dismissing the plaintiff's claim. The Court's opinion in Salyer v. City of Dallas can be found here.