Employee driving drunk kills two people. Texas court of appeals holds that his employer did not owe duty to investigate the employee’s driving record before entrusting employee to drive vehicle.

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by Michael Heygood

The lawsuit underlying the recent ruling by the Houston Court of Appeals in Magee v. G & H Towing Co,.— S.W.3d —-, 2012 WL 1065856 (Tex. App.–Houston [1st Dist.] March 29, 2012) was filed by the children of a couple who had been killed in a fatal two-car collision.   The plaintiffs alleged that the man responsible for the crash and their parents’ death was driving a vehicle that had been “entrusted” to him by his employer.  The accident occurred after the man left a bar and, as a result of the accident, the man was convicted on two counts of failure to yield the right of way and intoxication manslaughter. The plaintiffs alleged that because the man had a history of similarly dangerous driving, the employer should be responsible for entrusting him with the vehicle.

Does a Texas employer have a duty to investigate the driving record of any employee to whom it entrusts a vehicle beyond ascertaining that the employee has a valid driver’s license?  No, according to Magee.

The general rule in “negligent-entrustment” cases does not impose a duty to investigate a person’s driving record beyond ascertaining that the person has a valid driver’s license. See Avalos v. Brown Auto. Ctr., Inc., 63 S.W.3d 42, 48–49 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 2001, no pet) (no duty of automotive repair company to investigate record of customer and licensed driver to whom loan vehicle was entrusted); Nobbie v. Agency Rent–a–Car, Inc., 763 S.W.2d 590, 591–93 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 1988, writ denied) (no duty by rental car company to investigate beyond confirmation of license).

The plaintiffs in Magee argued that the general rule should not apply to employee-employer relationships.  Instead, the employer should owe a duty to investigate the employee’s driving record.   The court of appeals disagreed that “on the facts presented in this case, an employer has a duty to investigate its employee’s driving record beyond ascertaining that the employee is a licensed driver, absent evidence that the employer is otherwise on notice that the employee might be an incompetent driver.”

In Magee, the employee had a valid driver’s license both when he was hired and at the time he was entrusted with the vehicle.   There was not any evidence that the employer had any actual knowledge that the employee might be an unsafe driver.   As a result, the court of appeals affirmed a summary judgment granted in the employer’s favor.

In order to successfully pursue such a claim against the employer of a reckless-driving employee, it may be necessary for accident victims to determine whether the employer had “information calling into question that employee’s driving ability.”  If you have any questions about pursuing such a claim for injuries