AUSTIN (KXAN) — A former employee of la Barbecue in Austin is suing the restaurant and its owners after a 2016 incident that caused him to lose four fingers. The lawsuit follows 2022 insurance fraud charges from the Texas Department of Insurance.

In 2016, Aaron Gomez was working to prepare sausage overnight at la Barbecue when his glove caught in the meat grinder, causing him to lose four fingers on his left hand, the lawsuit said.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday is seeking a jury trial to recover Gomez’s full range of damages, his attorney Jon Clark said. Gomez is suing la Barbecue, the estate of Leann Mueller, restaurant manager Alison Clem and Paychex Business Solutions.

The restaurant shared a statement with KXAN, writing it “acted in good faith” to provide a safe environment for employees.

la Barbecue is committed to being a safe and inclusive workplace for all and we have always acted in good faith to ensure that our employees are provided a safe environment in which to work. We are confident that our justice system will eventually produce a result consistent with our good intentions which will be evident in the coming months.

la Barbecue statement

A Paychex spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Gomez said the meat grinder switch worked sometimes and didn’t work sometimes. His attorney said employees were told to plug and unplug the grinder when the switch did not work. On the day of the accident, Gomez went to unplug the grinder and his glove was pulled in.

Through the backdated policy, Gomez received about $335,000 in workers’ compensation for medical bills and lost wages. He received medical benefits at select doctors and 70% of lost wages, Clark said.

Clark said they are filing the civil lawsuit now after insurance fraud charges came to light last year. The lawsuit claims the restaurant backdated its workers’ compensation policy to avoid a civil lawsuit.

In August 2022, the Texas Department of Insurance said la Barbecue owner LeAnn Mueller and restaurant manager Alison Clem were indicted in an alleged workers’ compensation fraud scheme.

The department said the restaurant manager, Clem, did not share the employee’s injuries to an insurance agent and requested a backdated policy. TDI said the restaurant was without workers’ compensation coverage since 2014.

Workers’ compensation in Texas

According to the Texas Department of Insurance, the state does not require most private employers to have workers’ compensation.

Without workers’ compensation, the employer loses legal protections against most lawsuits, according to TDI.

Workers’ compensation includes benefits such as medical care to treat employees who are injured or ill because of their jobs, according to TDI. It can also pay for some lost income.