Texas Court Dismisses Widower’s Claims Against Driver’s Employer Based on Negligent Entrustment and Vicarious Liability – Martinez v. Arafa

A close up of a steering wheel inside a car, keys dangle from the ignition.

When pursing a personal injury case against a negligent or reckless driver, it is in the plaintiff’s best interests to thoroughly investigate all theories of liability and identify all potential defendants prior to filing suit. If the driver was employed and arguably “on the job” at the time of the collision, his or her employer may be named in the lawsuit in addition to the driver himself or herself. In many cases, the employer has “deeper pockets” (i.e., more assets or higher insurance coverage limits), so a finding of liability can result in a more adequate financial recovery for the injured person.

Of course, the employer may have an argument that the employee was not acting in the course of employment at the time of the accident, thus relieving the employer of potential liability under a theory of respondeat superior (by which the master may be held liable for the torts of the servant). The employer may also have possible defenses against an allegation of negligent entrustment or another cause of action by the injured person.

Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Martinez v. Arafat, the plaintiff was the widower of a woman who was killed in a car accident. He filed a wrongful death action against the driver whose actions allegedly caused the wreck. He also named the driver’s employer as a defendant, alleging that the employer was vicariously liable under a theory of respondeat superior and that it had been negligent or grossly negligent in entrusting a vehicle to the driver, who did not have a driver’s license and who suffered from seizures. The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer, and the widower appealed.

The Decision of the Appellate Court

The court affirmed the lower court’s decision, first noting that a plaintiff seeking to make out a case of negligent entrustment must be able to show that the defendant (here, the employer) either owned or had the right to control the vehicle at the time of the accident. Finding that there was no evidence to raise a factual issue as to whether the the employer either took possession of the car or was aware that the third party to whom the car belonged gave the car to the driver with the intent that work be performed upon it at the defendant’s place of business, the court found that the employer was entitled to summary judgment.

The appellate court also agreed with the lower court that the widower had not shown that the driver was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the crash, and thus summary judgment for the employer on the vicarious liability claim was proper.

If You Have Lost a Loved One in a Car Accident

Those who have lost a family member in a car accident suffer untold emotional, mental, and financial stress. A skilled wrongful death attorney can help a family seek maximum monetary damages from the responsible party. To speak to an experienced east Texas car accident and wrongful death lawyer, call Attorney Earl Drott at (903) 531-9300. With more than 30 years of experience representing injured parties and families who have lost loved ones in and around Tyler, Mr. Drott is here to serve your family during this difficult time. There is no charge for the consultation, and most cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis.

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