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Negligent Supervision in Texas

motorbike-897372-mIn ExxonMOBIL Corporation v. Pagayon, the Texas Court of Appeals considered a case in which a man died after a fight between himself, his son, and an employee of the defendant at the defendant’s service station and convenience store. The defendant appealed a judgment in favor of the man’s wife, children, and estate on their wrongful death claims.

Pagayon and Cabulang were employees at a convenience station. They and Pagayon’s father had known each other before the employment. The son had conflicts with Cabulang at work and told both his manager and his father about them. The father phoned Cabulang, and they spoke heatedly about the conflict.

While working together, Cabulang cursed at Pagayon and in Pagayon’s view threatened him and his father. A coworker told the store manager, but the manager simply told the son to stay away from Cabulang. The father came to the store to pick up his son, and Cabulang started a fight with him, hitting him multiple times in the head and back. The father was taken to the hospital emergency room. He was moved to the ICU, and when they tried to wean him from the respirator, he was transferred to a long-term intensive care facility. The father died of respiratory failure, renal failure, and cardiac arrhythmia. The organ failure was caused by sepsis, which is an infection of the blood.

The father’s family sued ExxonMobil on the grounds that it was either directly or indirectly liable for the father’s injuries and death. ExxonMobile claimed that it wasn’t responsible for the fight, and the death was caused by medical negligence. The family successfully fought against the defendant’s efforts to bring in the father’s doctor and the defendant’s medical expert.

An employer can be found vicariously liable for an employee’s actions when the actions are within the course and scope of employment and were performed to further the employer’s business. In this case, the jury didn’t find that they were. However, the jury found that the defendant was directly liable for negligent supervision of Cabulang and that this combined with the negligence of the son and father to proximately cause the father’s death. The jury apportioned 75% responsibility to ExxonMobile, 15% to the son, and 10% to the father. The damages awarded were over $1.8 million for the claims.

The trial court signed a judgment awarding the family 75% of the damages the jury had assessed. It denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial. The defendant appealed.

On appeal, the defendant argued it was entitled to a take-nothing judgment both on the vicarious liability claim and the negligent supervision direct liability claim. The court explained that usually intentional torts like assault are not found to be within the scope of a worker’s employment. However, negligent supervision doesn’t require the court to look at whether the tort was committed in the course and scope of employment. An employer can be liable for its employee’s intentional torts. The issue in negligent supervision cases is whether the employer owed a duty to use reasonable care to control the employee in order to prevent him from hurting others.

In Texas, an employer owes a duty to use reasonable care to control an employee while acting outside the scope of employment to prevent him from intentionally hurting others if the employee is on the employer’s premises, the employee is using the employer’s chattel, and the employer knows or has reason to know it can control its servant and knows or should know there is a need and opportunity to exercise that control.

The court explained that the manager had warning that Cabulang was violent. Therefore, he had a duty to use reasonable care to control him to avoid his hurting others. While the defendant argued that the store merely provided a location for an assault, and therefore the defendant’s decision to ignore its employee’s animus against the decedent’s son was not the proximate cause of the incident, the court found otherwise. it explained that the evidence supported the jury’s finding that negligence in supervising the employee was a proximate cause of an altercation on the defendant’s property.

However, it did find that certain evidence was sufficient to raise a question of fact as to whether the doctor was responsible for at least some of the plaintiffs’ damages. It reversed the judgment on the grounds that the trial court had erred in striking the doctor as a responsible third party and this ruling had damaged the defendant.

After the death of a loved one, it is important to retain an attorney who understands how to hold employers liable for the negligence of their employees. If  your loved one suffers a serious injury or death, the experienced San Antonio wrongful death attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help you recover from all of the people and entities responsible. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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