There is No Legal Duty on an Employer to Investigate Employees' Driving Records

Photo of Brant Stogner

On March 29, 2012, the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas affirmed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of the employer and essentially held that there is no legal duty on an employer to investigate its employees' driving records, absent other indicators of unsafe driving. The case arose out of an automobile accident whereby G&H Towing Co. employee, Joseph Violante, killed Douglas and Lois Magee while driving intoxicated after his shift. Violante was convicted in the criminal courts on two counts of failure to yield the right-of-way and intoxication manslaughter.

In the civil case, Violante was sued along with G&H and William Colson. Both Colson and Violante were employed by G&H as tugboat quartermasters. They worked on the same tugboat, but on opposite shifts. G&H conceded at trial that it was a widespread practice at the company for men working opposite shifts to share the same vehicle to go to and from work. This was called the "employee relief shuttle system." Pursuant to this practice, on May 14, 2004, Violante borrowed Colson's vehicle at the end of Violante's shift and drove himself home. He later drove Colson's vehicle to a bar, became intoxicated, and caused the fatal collision killing the Magees after leaving the bar.

The plaintiffs, the surviving heirs of the Douglas and Lois Magee, claimed that G&H was vicariously liable for the negligence of Colson when Colson negligently entrusted his vehicle to Violante. This claim was dismissed because the Court determined that Colson did not negligently entrust his vehicle to Violante and, thus, G&H could not be vicariously liable for negligence if Colson was found not to be negligent. The plaintiffs also claimed that G&H was directly negligent for failing to conduct any investigation into the driving records of employees who would be using the vehicles of their fellow employees as part of the company's employee relief shuttle system. According to the Magees, "[b]ecause the employee shuttle system involved regular use of motor vehicles by company employees for the benefit of the company and the furtherance of its business interests, G&H had a legal duty to investigate the driving records of employees who would regularly use vehicles in connection with this shuttle system." The plaintiffs argued that G&H had a legal duty to investigate Violante's driving record beyond just whether he was licensed to drive.

In this case, Violante's past driving and criminal record contains substantial evidence of incompetent and reckless driving. In the ten years leading up to the fatal crash, Violante had been cited multiple times for causing an injury accident where his license was suspended and he carried no insurance, cited for multiple moving violations, arrested multiple times for DWI, and arrested for driving with a suspended license. G&H argued, however, that G&H did not entrust its vehicle to Violante; rather, it was Colson's personal car that was entrusted by Colson - not G&H. According to the Court, the plaintiffs' theory is essentially that G&H's requirement for Colson to share his personal vehicle with Violante through the company's relief shuttle system is the same as G&H entrusting a company vehicle to Violante. The Court stated, "for the Magees to prevail, we would have to conclude as a threshold matter that an employer has a duty to investigate the driving record of any employee to whom it entrusts a vehicle beyond ascertaining that the employee has a valid driver's license."

Before reaching its conclusion, the Court noted that Violante had a valid driver's license when he was hired by G&H and at the time Colson entrusted his vehicle to Violante. The Court then noted that there was no evidence that G&H had actual knowledge that Violante might be an unsafe driver. The Court finally held that G&H did not have a general duty to investigate Violante's driving record absent other indicators that he may be an unsafe driver. In other words, unless the employer actually knows the employee is an unsafe driver, the employer does not have to check the employee's driving records to actually know if the employee is an unsafe driver.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of drunk driving, contact the attorneys at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information

Awards & Recognition

  • 2016-2017 Equal Access to Justice Champion

    The Equal Access to Justice Champions Program was started by the Houston Bar Association in 2006, to help ensure placement of Houston Volunteer Lawyers cases with pro bono volunteers. Originally, firms were tiered according to size, and firms within each tier committed to accept a certain number of pro bono cases from HVL each year for five years.

  • The National Trial Lawyers | Top 100 Trial Lawyers

    The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 is an invitation-only organization composed of the premier trial lawyers from each state or region who meet stringent qualifications as civil plaintiff and/or criminal defense trial lawyers. Selection is based on a thorough multi-phase objective and uniformly applied process which includes peer nominations combined with third-party research.

  • Million Dollar Advocates Forum

    Established in 1993, the Million Dollar Advocates Forum (which includes the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum) is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States. Membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. There are over 4000 members throughout the country. Fewer than 1% of U.S. lawyers are members.

  • Recognized by Best Lawyers America | Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz | 2017

    Recognition by Best Lawyers is based entirely on peer review. Their methodology is designed to capture, as accurately as possible, the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area.

  • Lead Counsel Rated

    In order to earn the Lead Counsel Rating, an attorney must not only demonstrate significant legal experience, but must also receive multiple peer recommendations advocating his or her ability. This is a key component in the screening process.

  • Texas Super Lawyers | Texas Monthly

    Each year, Super Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers in Texas via a patented multiphase selection process involving peer nomination, independent research and peer evaluation. The Texas lawyers who receive the highest point totals during this selection process are further recognized in Texas Super Lawyers Top Lists.

Get Your Free Case Review 713.587.9668

Let Us Help You Today! Request a Free Consultation

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented nearly 100 victims who suffered personal injuries and damages to property from a large fire and explosion resulting in a settlement of more than $50 million. The firm served as lead lawyers on the steering committee in this litigation.

  • $80 Million Personal Injury Large Plant Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 270 plaintiffs', taking a lead role in the plaintiffs' steering committee, who suffered injuries in a large plant explosion resulting in a settlement of nearly $80 million.

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Plant Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 45 personal injury victims in a plant fire and explosion, serving on the plaintiffs' steering committee, concluding with a settlement of more than $50 million.

  • $22+ Million Personal Injury Work Site Accident

    The firm prevailed in a personal injury trial for a worksite injury client with the jury returning a verdict and resulting in a judgment of over $22 million for the firm's client.

  • $12 Million Auto Accident 18-Wheeler Collision

    The firm successfully achieved a $12 million settlement for the family of a man who died in an 18 wheeler collision.

  • $30 Million Personal Injury Burn Victims

    The firm prevailed on behalf of three burn victims with settlements totaling nearly $30 million.

Our Record Of Success.

When you are hurt and you choose a law firm to represent you in court or at the negotiation table, you need to carefully consider the firm's record.

More Success Stories