The Texas General Counsel Forum presented the 2012 Magna Stella Award for Major Litigation to Mary Barrows Nichols (pictured), senior vice president and general counsel for Texas Mutual Insurance Co., during the Nov. 8 awards dinner for the 14th annual Conference of General Counsel in San Antonio.
“I was surprised but very pleased,” Nichols says. “I think it’s an honor that belongs to the company.”
Nichols says she received the award largely because of her efforts to get a case before the Texas Supreme Court to address the issue of “bad faith” suits in workers’ compensation.
On June 22, the high court ruled 5-4 on rehearing in Texas Mutual Insurance Co. v. Ruttiger that “an injured employee may not assert a common-law claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing against a workers’ compensation carrier,” according to the court’s majority opinion. Also in Ruttiger, the court reversed its 1988 decision in Aranda v. Insurance Co. of North America, which created a cause of action that enabled an employee injured on the job to sue the employer’s workers’ compensation insurer.
Nichols says she knew that elements of the workers’ compensation reforms that the Texas Legislature enacted in 1989 needed clarification by the state Supreme Court and directed the effort to get Ruttiger before the court.
“It was a big deal,” she says of the Supreme Court’s decision in Ruttiger.
Nichols is a 1985 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Prior to becoming Texas Mutual’s general counsel in 1995, Nichols says that she worked 10 years for Vinson & Elkins in Austin, where she was of counsel.
-- Mary Alice Robbins
Robbins is an Austin-based freelance writer and a former Texas Lawyer senior reporter.