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Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court Decision in Lawsuit Against Employer

Posted in Auto Accidents

Recently, a state court issued an opinion in a car accident case in which the driver was acting in the course of his employment for the defendant employer when the accident occurred.

Facts of the Case

An energy company hired a drilling company to drill oil and gas wells on a property they owned. During similar projects, the drilling company would arrange for bunkhouses to be placed on the property for their employees, but in this instance, the energy company did not permit these bunkhouses. Instead, they agreed to pay the drilling company $50 a day to compensate one of the drilling company employees for driving other employees to off-site housing.

One of the employees volunteered for this position and would routinely drive other employees to the bunk site or to his home. On one occasion, the driver was transporting his coworkers to the bunk site when he was involved in a devastating accident. He hit another vehicle, which resulted in the death of two of his coworkers and serious injuries to himself and an additional coworker. The driver filed a claim before the Texas Department of Workers’ Compensation. The drilling company argued that the accident occurred while the driver was acting within the course and scope of his employment. The department found his injuries to be compensable.

Procedural Posture

The injured coworker filed a lawsuit against the driver, drilling company, and energy company, alleging that they were vicariously liable for the driver’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the energy company and the drilling company. Both judgments were appealed, and the court of appeals reviewed the claim against the drilling company.

Vicarious Liability

Most states, including New Mexico, follow the common-law theory of respondeat superior. The court reviewed the tenets of respondeat superior to determine whether liability was appropriate. The necessary elements to succeed on this claim are whether the employee’s actions 1.) were naturally incidental to the employer’s business, and 2.) were done while the employee was acting for the employer’s business interest.

In this case, the court found that the driver was being paid to transport the drilling company’s employees, and this, in turn, benefited the drilling company. Thus, the court held that it was clear that the driver was acting within the scope and course of his employment. The drilling company tried to argue that they were not liable because employers are often not liable for injuries sustained when employees are driving to and from work. However, an exception exists when the employee is on a “special mission” for their employer. And this is what the court determined was occurring when this accident arose.

The court ultimately found that the company was not entitled to summary judgment because there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the driver was acting within the course and scope of his employment, and therefore the trial court’s ruling was reversed.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident in New Mexico?

If you have suffered an injury because of the negligence of another person while they were acting in the course of their employment, you should contact the attorneys at the Fine Law Firm. Our Albuquerque car accident attorneys can assist you in determining which parties can be held liable for your injuries. Often, employers will try to dodge responsibility, but a New Mexico car accident attorney at the Fine Law Firm can help you overcome this hurdle. If you are successful, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you sustained. Contact one of our attorneys at 800-640-6590 to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

New Mexico Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Rental Car Company After Renter Is Involved in an Accident, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 24, 2017.

Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Business in Recent Premises Liability Case, Citing Open and Obvious Danger, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2018.