The law in New Mexico and many other states holds that when an employee of a company is performing his or her work-related duties, the employer can be held legally responsible for any injuries caused by that employee. In the case of William v. Curtis, No. 12-CV-716 MCA/LAM. (U.S Dist. Ct. N.M. 2014), the federal trial court faced the issue of whether liability for an accident caused by a driver for El Paso Natural Gas Co., Inc. could be imputed to the company even though the driver had finished his duties for the day. At the time the driver, who was still driving his company truck, caused the EPNG vehicle to collide with the plaintiff’s vehicle, he was on his way to a motel to get some rest.
Apparently, the driver was permitted by the company to use the truck to drive to and from work. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer can be held vicariously liable for the negligent actions of an employee who is acting within the scope of his employment. Usually the issue of whether an employee was acting in the course and scope of his employment “is a question of fact for the jury.” But where no facts are in dispute and the undisputed facts lend themselves to only one conclusion, the issue may properly be decided as a matter of law. Furthermore, the law in New Mexico is well-settled that a driver who uses a company vehicle to get to work is not considered to be “acting within the scope of his employment” until he commences his work-related duties.
As the plaintiff failed to present evidence to suggest that this driver was still working on the day of the accident, the trial court granted a summary judgment in favor of EPNG Co., Inc.; i.e. the company cannot be held liable under this set of facts. While this does not necessarily foreclose the opportunity of the plaintiff to bring a suit against the driver individually, such a course of action could be problematic. It is very likely that the vehicle he was driving was insured by a policy secured by the employer. If there is no other insurance coverage available but the coverage afforded by that policy, then the plaintiff could still obtain a judgment against the individual driver but there may not be sufficient assets that are reachable to cover the amount of any judgment.
The attorneys at Giddens & Gatton Law,amp; P.C. represent individuals in personal injury suits in New Mexico. Giddens & Gatton Law,amp; P.C. is located at 10400 Academy Road N.E., Suite 350 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Call the office at (505) 633-6298 to set up an appointment or visit the firm’s website at giddenslaw.com for more information