A Texas state appeals court has ruled employers are not required to protect their intoxicated employees from injury or death, provided the employer played no role in the employee’s intoxication. Clark v. EOG Resources Inc., 12-CV-00262 (Tex. App. Houston 1st Dist. Jan. 7, 2014).
Robbie Lynn Clark, an employee of a contractor for EOG Resources, Inc., was killed in a fatal car crash while driving a Company truck back to work after his lunch break. Toxicology reports indicated Clark was intoxicated, with a blood alcohol reading of over 4 times the legal limit. Following the accident, Clark’s family sued EOG for negligence and wrongful death, claiming EOG failed to enforce its policy prohibiting drinking while on the job and negligently failed to investigate whether Clark had a history of driving while intoxicated before allowing him to drive a Company vehicle.
Clark, who had a long history of driving while intoxicated, was hired by a contractor for EOG two weeks after he was released from prison for his fourth DWI conviction. He submitted a driving record report with his application, but the report (which was labeled as “for insurance purposes only”) only included three years of driving history. As Clark’s most recent DWI conviction was 6 years earlier, it did not show up on the report.
Six months after he began working with EOG, Clark was arrested again for driving while intoxicated and his license was suspended. Clark failed to report the conviction to EOG, however, and continued to drive without a license. He died ten months later.
The lawsuit alleged EOG had a duty to closely scrutinize Clark’s employment history before allowing him to drive a Company vehicle. Had EOG done so, according to Clark’s family, it might have discovered in Clark’s employment as a result of serving prison sentences for his DWI convictions. The suit further alleged that EOG failed to adequately enforce its own policy prohibiting drinking on the job.
The trial court dismissed the case on a motion for summary judgment. It found EOG did not have any control over Clark’s decision to drink and drive. The appeals court affirmed. Though the court recognized that Texas case law has found employers can be liable, under certain circumstances, to third parties injured in a car crash by an intoxicated employee, it found no such liability existed here. Absent a showing that EOG knowingly exerted control over an intoxicated Clark or encouraged or required him to consume alcohol while at work, as an employer it did not “owe a duty to prevent [an] employee from injuring himself through his own intoxicated driving of a company vehicle during a lunch break.”