Vicarious Liability of an Employer
In 2022, the Texas Supreme Court heard Cameron International Corp. v. Martinez regarding potential liability of an employer for an employee’s car wreck after leaving a jobsite. The facts of the case included an oilfield worker leaving a four-day job to meet his supervisor for dinner before restocking his personal supplies of food and water in anticipation of future work. On the way there, the worker was involved in a deadly car wreck. The survivors of the wreck and the estates of the decedents sued both the worker and his employer.
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is responsible for the negligence of an agent or employee acting within the scope of their employment. Because of this, even if the employer has done nothing wrong, they may be liable to victims of their employee’s negligence. This is known as vicarious liability, meaning a party indirectly related to the matter can bear responsibility.
In Cameron, the Texas Supreme Court was faced with a scenario where the employee recently left the jobsite, but had finished his four-day schedule in the oilfield and was traveling for personal reasons. Because of this, the Court found that the employer could not be held responsible for its employee’s potential negligence when running personal errands. Accordingly, the employer’s motion for summary judgment was granted.
Interestingly, the trial court initially agreed with the Texas Supreme Court, but was overruled by the appellate court, who believed there was a fact issue on whether the employer could actually be held responsible. This indicates how reasonable minds can differ on interpretation of the law as it pertains to certain facts. Because of this, it is important to ensure that you have a team of competent attorneys who can successfully advocate your position, even if it is open to different conclusions.
The ruling by the Texas Supreme Court limits the doctrine of respondeat superior from being interpreted too broadly. If an employee causes a car wreck that is in no way involved with his scope of work, it would be unduly burdensome to allow plaintiffs to recover from the employer. Additionally, such a reality could lead to more peripheral lawsuits hoping to recover from employers who usually have more funds from which a plaintiff could recover.
Despite this, if it can be proven that a tort such as negligence was committed by an employee within the scope of their employment, respondeat superior allows recovery against the employer. Actions within the scope of employment are generally defined as those undertaken to further the objectives of the employer. In applicable scenarios, a plaintiff can rightfully recover from the employer who put the employee in the situation where a tort was eventually committed.
Whether you are interesting in pursuing or defending from a potential respondeat superior claim, Waldron & Schneider can help. Our team of litigation attorneys is experienced in lawsuits involving a wide variety of torts and can organize an approach to best accomplish your intended objectives.
Call our office today to speak with one of our attorneys about how we can help you with any litigation needs.
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