Texas Supreme Court Rules in a Car Accident Case Arising from Accident Allegedly Caused by Drilling Company Employee

An issue that sometimes comes up in an east Texas car accident case is whether or not a certain business or company is vicariously liable for a crash caused by someone who worked for that business or company.

The resolution of this issue can greatly affect the amount of monetary compensation received by the plaintiff in the case, since businesses and corporations typically have much higher liability insurance limits (or other resources that can be attached and liquidated by the injured party if he or she is successful at trial) than do private individuals.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently decided by the state’s highest court, the plaintiff was a man who had been injured in a motor vehicle accident. He sought compensation from the defendant drilling company based on a theory of vicarious liability, claiming that the defendant was liable for the tortious acts of its employee, whose negligence allegedly caused the accident. At the time of the accident, the driver was driving his personal vehicle to transport himself and the other three men to a “mobile bunkhouse” provided for the defendant’s crew members.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim failed because there was no evidence showing that the defendant controlled the details of the driver’s work at the time of the accident. The trial court granted the motion, and the intermediate court of appeals affirmed.

The Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the court of appeals’ decision and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that the defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on on the plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim on either no-evidence or traditional grounds.

Under Texas law, an employer is vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its servant if those acts are within the course and scope of the servant’s employment. A servant acts “within the course and scope” of his or her employment when he or she acts in furtherance of the employer’s business and in order to accomplish something he or she was hired to do. The negligent act must be of the “same general nature” as conduct authorized by the employer; if an employee deviates from performing his or her duties for his or her own purposes, the employer is not liable for a negligent act that occurs during such a deviation.

Since part of the job of the driver in this case was to transport his crew to and from the drilling site (he was paid a “bonus” for performing this task), the court rejected the defendant’s contention that there was no evidence showing that the driver was acting as its employee at the time of the accident. The court likewise rejected the employer’s contention that the driver ceased acting as its employee when he left the drilling site, concluding that a factual issue existed as to whether the driver was acting in the course and scope of his employment when the crash occurred.

An Experienced East Texas Car Accident Attorney Here to Help

At Earl Drott Law, we handle many different types of car accident cases, as well as those arising from other motor vehicle collisions, construction site accidents, on-the-job injuries, and oilfield accidents. For a free consultation with an experienced injury attorney with over 34 years of experience representing the people of Tyler, Smith County, and the surrounding area, call us now at 903-531-9300.

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