Appeals Court in Tyler Finds No Vicarious Liability Against Employer When Employee Was Headed Home for Lunch at Time of Crash – Williams v. Great Western Distributing Company of Amarillo

In some cases proceeding under Texas negligence law, the doctrine of respondeat superior can be used hold an employer vicariously liable for the tortious acts of a servant. This includes situations in which an employee’s negligent operation of an automobile results in injuries to an innocent motorist or passenger.

Of course, there are exceptions to the doctrine, and sometimes an employer is relieved of vicarious liability due to the particular circumstances of a given case.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Williams v. Great Western Distributing Company of Amarillo, the plaintiff was a man who was hurt in a motor vehicle accident. He filed a personal injury lawsuit in Taylor County, Texas, naming as a defendant the employer of the driver whose negligence he alleged caused the crash. In his lawsuit, the plaintiff asserted a claim for vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant employer on the vicarious liability issue, and the plaintiff appealed.

Holding of the Court

The Court of Appeals for the Twelfth Court of Appeals District at Tyler, Texas, affirmed the trial court’s decision in favor of the employer on the issue of respondeat superior. First, the court restated the basic principles of vicarious liability in Texas: liability can be imposed upon an employer only if an employee’s negligence fell within the scope of the employee’s general authority and if the act was in furtherance of the employer’s business and for the accomplishment of the object for which the employee was hired.

Because the plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the employee was driving a vehicle provided to him by the employer for the purpose of making deliveries, the court found that there was a presumption that the employee was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Had this presumption gone unrebutted, this would have triggered vicarious liability against the employer through the doctrine of respondeat superior.

However, the court went on to find that the defendant had presented evidence sufficient to rebut this presumption through the employee’s uncontroverted testimony that he was traveling home for lunch at the time of the accident. Under well-settled Texas law, an employer is “neither responsible nor liable” for accidents that occur when an employee deviates from the performance of his or her duties for a personal purpose-such as, in the instant case, going home for lunch.

Although the plaintiff pointed to several facts that he urged supported his contention that the employee was in the course and scope of his employment when the crash happened (including allegations that the employee had not yet completed all of his deliveries for the day and that his supervisor was on the scene before the police arrived), the court found that this evidence did not rebut the defendant’s evidence that the employee was en route to his residence for lunch at the time of the collision.

Under existing Texas case law, an employee going to or from a lunch break is not “within the scope of employment” even if he or she is driving a company vehicle. Because the plaintiff failed to prove that the employee was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision, the trial court was correct in granting summary judgment to the employer on the issues of respondeat superior and vicarious liability.

Talk to an East Texas Trial Lawyer About Your Case

To someone not well-versed in the law, a particular claim may seem like an “open and shut” case of liability. Things are not always as they initially appear, however, and sometimes an “easy” case becomes very difficult indeed. To talk to a seasoned Texas car accident attorney about your personal injury case or a loved one’s wrongful death lawsuit, call the law offices of Earl Drott today at (903) 531-9300. If you have been hurt in or around Tyler or Smith County, we can help you seek maximum compensation following a car wreck, motorcycle collision, or truck wreck.

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