Court: Crash Case Defendant/ Employer Not Entitled to Summary Judgment

Many ranches, farms and other agricultural companies arrange for employee housing in addition to wages for their workers. This can raise some interesting legal questions if workers are involved in a collision traveling to-and-from work, especially if one or more is paid during that accident

Typically in workers’ compensation law and with vicarious liability claims, the time in which workers are going to are leaving from work is subject to the “coming-and-going rule.” The coming-and-going rule holds an employee is not acting in the course and scope of employment while traveling to and from work. Therefore, injuries occurring during that time are generally not covered by workers’ compensation and vicarious liability lawsuits.

In a recent case out of Texas, the Texas Supreme Court weighed whether the lower courts had properly granted summary judgment to an employer in a fatal crash case. The court ruled that judgment was improper, reversed and remanded the case to trial for further proceedings. 

According to court records, the negligence lawsuit arose from a car accident that occurred when a drilling company employee was transporting three of his coworkers from the drill site to employer-provided housing. The drill site supervisor was paid a “bonus” of $50 a day to return the workers in the evening to their housing. The workers weren’t required to live there, but most did. The company didn’t put any restrictions on the route they took or whether they stopped along the way and the supervisor drove his own truck.

One day while driving his co-workers home, the supervisor struck another vehicle, resulting in a rollover car accident that killed two people and injured two others, including the drill supervisor. The drill supervisor sought – and received – workers’ compensation benefits after a contested hearing before the state’s Insurance Workers’ Compensation Division. The other injured worker and representatives of decedent crew members did not seek workers’ compensation benefits.

One of those workers filed a lawsuit against the driver and the company, alleging the company was vicariously liable for its drivers’ negligence. Normally, a worker would not be able to sue an employer, as workers’ compensation would be deemed the exclusive remedy, but that would only be if the worker was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the injury. This was part of employer’s defense. Employer also argued that the drill instructor driver was not acting in the course and scope of employment because it had no control over the transportation of workers and that the drill supervisor was not its employee at the time of the crash, but rather a “borrowed servant.”

Although trial court and appellate court sided with employer on a motion for summary judgment, the state supreme court reversed. The state high court held an employer could not establish fluidity as to a worker’s position as an employee vs. independent contractor based on the job they are doing at any given time, as a worker’s status might change constantly throughout a given day. Further, the court held the workers’ status at the time of the crash (and whether they were acting in the course and scope of employment, as it had already been determined the driver was), could not be decided as a matter of law.

The case was remanded for trial, and the injured worker and survivors of those killed will have an opportunity to pursue damages.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Painter v. Amerimex Drilling I, Ltd., April 13, 2018, Texas Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Court: Car Accident Plaintiff Motive in Injury Lawsuit Irrelevant, May 31, 2018, Fort Myers Car Accident Attorney Blog

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