SCOTX – SeaBright Ins. Co. v. Lopez

No. 14-0272; J. Green, majority

The issue in this case was whether the summary judgment evidence conclusively established that an employee was acting in the course and scope of his employment when he died in a car accident while driving to a remote job site. The court said it did.

Candelario Lopez worked for Interstate Treating, Inc., a fabricator for the oil-and-gas processing industry. Interstate would assign Lopez to remote job sites, and provide him a company vehicle once he started working at the remote locations. Lopez, however, had to drive his own car to remote locations and pay for his own lodging during his assignment.

In the particular location where the car accident happened, Lopez had decided to stay in a motel about 40 miles away from the job site. He drove the company vehicle to and from the motel, and Interstate paid the insurance and gas. One day, Lopez died in an accident while he was giving two of his work buddies a ride to the job site.

Lopez's wife sought death benefits from Interstate's workers' compensation insurance carrier.

The court observed that the Texas Worker's Compensation Act provides for employee compensation when injuries "arise [] out of and in the course and scope of employment for which compensation is payable." The only issue the parties presented was whether Lopez was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of his death.

The court recognized that the Legislature had defined "course and scope of employment" to mean:

[A]n activity of any kind or character that has to do with and originates in the work, business, trade, or profession of the employer and that is performed by an employee while engaged in or about the furtherance of the affairs or business of the employer. The term includes an activity conducted on the premises of the employer or at other locations.

Travel to work is usually excluded unless "the relationship between the travel and the employment is so close that it can fairly be said that the injury had to do with and originated in the work, business, trade, or profession of the employer."

Half of Interstate's employees worked in the field. The location of these employees was never permanent. And Interstate's practice was to hire people who had worked at previous remote locations. Lopez had worked on previous installation jobs, and he was paid a per diem to offset food and lodging expenses. Based on these considerations, the risks associated with Lopez's driving to the remote sites were dictated by Interstate's business model and enabled by its payment of the vehicle's insurance and gas, and per diem payments. The court also found that Lopez's travel "furthered" Interstate's business, and that the exception of Tex. Lab. Code § 401.011(12)(A–B) applied—Interstate's payment of fuel and insurance expenses was "transportation furnished as a part of . . . employment or is paid for by the employer." The summary-judgment evidence therefore conclusively showed that Lopez was in the course and scope of his employment when he had the accident so his wife was entitled to worker's compensation death benefits.