Texas Appeals Court Rules In Favor Of Large Company Where Its Employee Killed After DWI

bar-1-774291-m.jpgThe Texas Court of Appeals of the First District in Houston recently upheld a summary judgment motion in an unusual case against an employee’s widow who sued her husband’s employer after he died on the job due to driving while intoxicated.

In Clark v. EOG Resources, Inc., the plaintiff’s husband, Robbie Lynn Clark, was hired to work as a driver for Vaquero, a company that contracts out workers to EOG, an energy exploration company. Before applying for the position, Clark had a lengthy history of DWI convictions. These included serving a 180-day sentence in 1991 after an arrest in Comanche, Texas; an arrest in 1994, which led to him pleading guilty to a third-degree felony, resulting in eight years of confinement; an arrest in 2001 and another guilty plea to a third-degree felony; and an arrest in 2007. After the 2001 arrest, Clark was paroled on the condition that he never operate a vehicle without the approval of his parole officer.

Clark applied for the Vaquero driver position in 2007, six months before his most recent DWI arrest. Vaquero’s insurance agent asked Clark to provide his driving record; however, since it dated back just three years, it did not reveal Clark’s DWI history — only that his license had expired in 2005. After Clark provided proof that his license had been renewed and he had no restrictions, he was hired by Vaquero. After Clark’s 2007 DWI arrest, his license was suspended, but Clark did not inform Vaquero or EOG. Instead, he continued to drive Vaquero company trucks, until one day in 2008 he ran a truck off of the road and was killed after being ejected. Clark’s blood alcohol level was later revealed to be .344 — more than four times the legal limit.

Clark’s widow later sued both Vaquero and EOG for negligence. In her case against EOG, she argued that EOG acted with “conscious indifference” for Clark’s well being and ignored their internal policies that prohibited alcohol on the job. Specifically, she charged EOG with wrongful death; gross negligence; and negligent hiring, failure to investigate, screen, and supervise. EOG responded by filing a no-evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment, which the trial court later granted. Clark’s widow then filed an appeal.

The Court of Appeals looked at whether EOG owed a duty to Clark that it then breached by allowing him to drive while intoxicated. The Court noted that while there was precedent in finding an employer liable to a third party for an employee’s intoxication, most courts did not extend that liability to employees injured by their own intoxication. The only exception was when drinking on the job was encouraged, which was not the case here. EOG did not exert any control over Clark while he drove to lunch intoxicated, nor did it encourage Clark to drink. Therefore, EOG owed Clark no duty of care. The Court affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment decision.

I have been representing Texans injured in accidents for over 33 years. Located in Fort Worth and with offices throughout the Metroplex and in Houston, I only represent people who have been injured by accidents involving cars, trucks, 18 wheelers, bicycles and motorcycles — often hit by drivers who are DWI. If you want an experienced Board Certified Fort Worth personal injury attorney who will provide you with compassionate legal representation, contact my office today to schedule a free initial consultation.

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