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Supreme Court of Texas Reverses Lower Court’s Decision in Car Accident Case in Favor of Plaintiff

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Texas issued a written opinion in a Texas car accident case involving the question of whether the defendant employer could be held liable for the allegedly negligent actions of an employee. Ultimately, the court concluded that the lower court improperly granted the defendant employer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that a genuine issue of fact remained as to whether the employer was vicariously liable. Thus, the court reversed the lower court’s judgment and remanded the case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff worked for a company that drilled oil and gas wells. On this particular job, the plaintiff and the rest of the crew were put up in company housing about 30 miles away from the drilling site. A contract between the plaintiff’s employer and the owner of the land where the wells were to be drilled stated that the supervising crew member would be compensated for driving the crew members to and from the drilling site.

Thus, for this particular job, the plaintiff’s crew supervisor provided the plaintiff and the rest of the crew with transportation to the drill site. One day, the supervisor was involved in a car accident that killed two members of the crew and injured the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the employer, arguing that it was vicariously liable for the supervisor’s negligence in causing the accident.

In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the employer argued that it could not be held liable under a vicarious liability theory because – although the supervisor was admittedly an employee when at the drilling site– the defendant retained no control over how the supervisor got his crew to the job site. The trial court agreed, noting that the plaintiff must establish that the supervisor was acting as an employee at the time of the accident, and the fact that the employer retained no control over the supervisor’s actions counseled against this finding. The plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his case.

On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The court began by noting that a plaintiff must establish two elements to prove vicarious liability:  1.) that the allegedly negligent party was an employee, and 2.) that the party was acting within the scope of their employment when the injury occurred. The court explained that the determination of whether the defendant employer retained control over the allegedly negligent employee’s actions was relevant to the first element.

Thus, the relevant question here was whether the employer retained control over the supervisor’s work as a whole – instead of just over the route chosen to get to and from the drilling site. The court explained that the method used by the lower court was “unworkable” because under such an analysis, a worker would shift between being an employee and an independent contractor depending on the task being performed. As a result, the court reversed the lower court’s decision and permitted the plaintiff’s case to proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations.

Have You Been Injured in a Texas Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Texas car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Texas personal injury lawyers at Carabin Shaw have extensive experience assisting victims and their families with pursuing the compensation they deserve. We also offer victims free consultations to discuss their case and determine how we may be able to help. Call 1-800-862-1260 to schedule your free consultation today.

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