No Vicarious Liability to Employer of Motorist Who Stopped by Future Work Site When Off-the-Clock, Per Texas Appellate Court

car accidentGenerally speaking, when a motorist causes an east Texas car accident while he or she is “on the clock,” the motorist’s employer may be named as a defendant in a resulting lawsuit and potentially held vicariously liable to the injured party for his or her medical expenses, lost earnings, and other damages. This benefits the injured person because, usually, an employer has “deeper pockets” (higher liability insurance limits and/or assets that could be liquidated to satisfy a judgment) than the employee.

Sometimes, an employer may be held liable for a worker’s “off-the-clock” actions, but these cases are rare. It all comes down to the specific facts of the case.

The Facts of the Case

In a recent case (Texas Court of Appeals, Third District; No. 03-18-00252-CV), the plaintiff was a man who was injured in an automobile accident allegedly caused by the negligence of the defendant’s employee. At the time of the accident, the defendant’s employee had left work and was on his way home. However, a co-worker was riding with him, and the employee decided to stop by a future work site so that the he could show the co-worker the location of the site. According to the employee, he did not intend to get out of the vehicle or speak to anyone onsite. The accident happened as the employee was attempting to turn into the driveway of the future work site.

The plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging that it was vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed.

The Court’s Decision

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, holding that there was no evidence that the employee was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the collision. Rather, the court ruled that the evidence showed that the employee had completed his work for the day and that the co-worker was riding with the employee because they were personal friends. The employee was acting on his own initiative when he decided to stop by the future work site because they happened to be passing by the location.

There was no evidence that the defendant employer instructed the employee to go to the future work site or that the employee had any intention to get out of his vehicle at the site. Because the employee was serving his own purposes – not furthering the employer’s interests – at the time of the crash, the employer should not be held vicariously liable to the plaintiff for his injuries, according to the court.

Schedule an Appointment

Too often, those who are hurt in an east Texas car accident do not receive full compensation for their injuries because the negligent party who caused the crash was uninsured or underinsured. Although the facts did not support a finding of vicarious liability on the employer in the case above, sometimes it is possible to hold the motorist’s employer (or perhaps even a third-party) responsible, increasing the chances of full compensation due to additional insurance coverage or other assets. For an appointment to discuss your Tyler or Smith County accident case, call Earl Drott Law at 903-531-9300.

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