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Supreme Court Appears to “Flip” on Coming and Going Rule in Vicarious Liability Case
On April 13, 2018, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals inPainter v. Amerimex Drilling - a negligence case involving an MVA that occurred while a drilling company employee was driving his coworkers from a drill site to housing provided by the employer at the end of their shift. The Supreme Court held that the employer was not entitled to summary judgment on the injured employee’s vicarious-liability claim. The injured crew members and the families of the crew members killed in the accident filed suit against Amerimex, alleging vicarious liability for the driver’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment for Amerimex, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Amerimex was not entitled to summary judgment on either no-evidence or traditional grounds on the crew members’ vicarious-liability claim.
In a dissenting opinion, Justices Green and Brown disagreed with the ruling, noting that, two years earlier, the Supreme Court found in favor of Sandridge Energy (the company that hired Amerimex to drill the well from which the crew members were being transported) in a suit arising out of the same accident. The dissenting opinion opined that the Supreme Court in the Sandridge Energy case found that the driver was not Sandridge’s employee, as a matter of law, “at least with respect to transporting the crew” and Sandridge was therefore entitled to summary judgment in the vicarious liability claim against Sandridge. The dissenting justices believed that the same legal rationale should hold true for the drilling company, Amerimex, because the driver was not (as a matter of law) the employee of the drilling company either.
The majority in the Amerimex litigation disagreed and found that there were fact questions to be resolved regarding the driver’s employment status at the time of the MVA.
Adding Assault to Injury
The claimant, a special education diagnostician, was assaulted by a parent of one of her students and sustained injury. During the time she was unable to work, she received assault leave pay from her employer in an amount equal to that of her pre-injury wage. The Appeals Panel, in Decision No. 180294 (decided March 29, 2018) determined that, because the claimant had performed no personal services for the employer in exchange for the assault leave pay she received, the pay was not properly considered wages under the Texas Workers' Compensation Act. Therefore, the Appeals Panel reversed the decision by the Administrative Law Judge that the claimant had no disability while receiving assault leave pay.
There’s a Reason It Wasn’t the Season
In APD No. 180270, decided March 28, 2018, the Appeals Panel concluded that the claimant, a professional football player, did not qualify as a seasonal employee, even though his salary was only paid in 17 installments during the actual football season. For the remainder of the year, the claimant was required by contract to further the business affairs of the employer by way of mandatory participation in charitable events, maintenance of his physical condition, production of memorabilia for auctions, cooperation with news media, and protecting the reputation of his team. The Appeals Panel determined that the claimant's employment does not demonstrate "a pattern of seasonal, cyclical employment," and therefore no adjustment to the claimant's average weekly wage applied.
Appeals Panel decisions have been known to cause headaches, but this is ridiculous. The Administrative Law Judge decided that the claimed headaches were not part of a compensable injury based on a designated doctor's assessment that "the claimant's minor head contusion would not result in ongoing headaches, and this diagnosis should not be considered compensable." In APD No. 180458, decided March 29, 2018, the Appeals Panel drew a distinction, stating that "headaches" and "ongoing headaches" are two separate injurious conditions. Because the condition appears sans adjective in the issue, the Appeals Panel concluded that the designated doctor had not considered the proper diagnosis and reversed the ALJ's extent of injury determination.
—Stone Loughlin & Swanson, LLP