Trial Court Was Wrong to Dismiss Case Against Business Whose Employee Allegedly Caused Accident, Says Texas Court of Appeals

Fully recovering from a serious car accident in East Texas or elsewhere can require the assistance of multiple professionals. Obviously, receiving proper medical attention should be first and foremost in an accident victim’s mind. However, there are other concerns that are likely to arise along the way.

How will the medical expenses get paid? What if the wreck leaves the accident victim unable to work either temporarily or indefinitely? What is the process for filing a claim against the responsible party?

To get answers to these and other important questions, it is important that someone who has been hurt in such a crash talk to an East Texas car accident attorney experienced in such matters as soon as possible. Issues such as vicarious liability (which can occur when someone causes an accident while they are on the job) can complicate what might otherwise seem like a straightforward case, so it is important that the person hurt in the collision have assertive legal representation as the case develops.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in a recent case were two men who alleged that they were injured a 2016 car accident caused by the defendant’s employee. More specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that, as he was driving home after an overnight business trip, the defendant’s employee attempted to pass their vehicle “at an excessive rate of speed” but lost control and struck their truck, causing both vehicles to leave the road and roll over multiple times. The plaintiffs asserted that the defendant was vicariously liable for their injuries because the employee was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. They also asserted a direct liability claim for negligent hiring.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not owe any duty to the plaintiffs because the employee was not acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiffs appealed.

Decision of the Appellate Tribunal

The Court of Appeals for the Thirteenth District of Texas reversed the lower court’s decision. Reviewing the lower court’s decision on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment de novo, the court first noted that a moving party was only entitled to summary judgment when such party demonstrated that there was no genuine issue of material fact. The burden of proof rested on the party seeking summary judgment, and this burden could only be met in situations in which reasonable and fair-minded jurors would agree in their conclusions regarding the evidence presented in support of the motion. If this burden was met, the case then shifted to the non-moving party, who then had the burden to produce evidence of genuine factual disputes.

Here, the appellate court agreed with the plaintiffs that there were factual issues that precluded summary judgment. In so holding the court noted that, while generally an employer such as the defendant was not liable for the acts of an employee while traveling to and from work, there was a “special mission” exception. The court went on to define a “special mission” as a specific errand that employee performed for his or her employer either as a part of his or her duties or upon the employer’s request. In the case of a “special mission,” the employee was still considered to be on the mission while returning from the place to which he or she was sent by the employer, unless the employee deviated from the purpose of the mission and engaged in a personal enterprise.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, as the non-moving parties to the motion for summary judgment, the court of appeals found that there was a factual issue as to whether the defendant’s employee was on a special mission (or within the course and scope of his employment) when the accident happened. Thus, the court ruled that summary judgment had been erroneous and remanded the case for further proceedings in the trial court.

To Seek a Free Case Review of Your Car Accident

Having a knowledgeable and assertive East Texas car accident lawyer on your side when fighting for justice following a wreck is very important. At Earl Drott Law, we have decades of experience representing those who have been hurt by other’s carelessness, recklessness, and negligence. For an appointment to discuss how we can help in your case, call us at 903-531-9300.

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