Texas employers are only liable for injuries that happen in the "course and scope of employment".
If you have been injured at your place of work, your employer will often try to avoid paying for your work accident. To avoid paying, employers will often argue that an injured worker was acting outside the course and scope of their employment at the time they were injured. If this argument sticks, it can release the employer from any liability for a work accident.
In this article, work injury attorney Michael Grossman defines what "scope and course of employment" and how it impacts your Texas work injury case.
Questions answered on this page:
- What does "scope and course of employment" mean?
- What determines what is within the scope of your employment?
- How will employers attempt to abuse this defense in injury cases to avoid compensating injured workers?
- How can an experienced work accident attorney make sure that an employer does not abuse the "course and scope" of employment defense?
What is considered "work'?
Work is considered to be the tasks that you perform that are within the scope of your employment. Scope of employment is not just limited to your job description. The scope of your employment is generally considered conduct that furthers the interest of your employer. As such, so long as your actions are legitimately benefiting your employer, it becomes difficult for your employer to argue that you were acting outside of the scope of your employment.
This means that if an employer asks a landscaper to run to the store pick up Gatorade for other landscapers, even though picking up Gatorade is not typically part of a landscaper's job, the employee is still in the course and scope of employment, because they are furthering their employers interests. Even if the employee is not yet on the clock, if the trip was specifically requested by the employer, it falls withing the course and scope of employment.
Another good example of this concept is: You've been hired on at the local pizza palace to help make pizzas. You learned the recipe for the perfect sauce, your dough is perfect, and your idea to freshly cut the ingredients as they're ordered has been a hit. But, one day a coworker bets you that you can't run down to the end of the block and back with an extra large pizza over your head in under 20 seconds. You oblige, because you are, after all, the pizza master chef. While you're running down the block you roll your ankle on uneven pavement and land on your side, breaking your right clavicle.
You should receive compensation because the "Great Pizza Race" happened at work right? Not according to Texas laws. Since there was no reasonable expectation, in any stretch of the imagination, that you would be required to sprint down the sidewalk with a big pizza above your head during your employment, you were not within the "course and scope of employment". Your employers' defense attorney would argue as such, and most likely, successfully.
Another hypothetical would be if a man works at a construction company that builds skyscrapers in downtown Houston. He answers a call on his cell phone, and then while speaking on the phone he trips over a tool belt and falls, resulting in serious injuries. The man's employer tries to avoid having to pay for the man's injuries by claiming that the man was acting outside the scope of his employment by taking the phone call while on the job. Would this be considered an action that falls outside the scope of employment? What if the call the man received was from his doctor to reschedule an appointment around the man's work schedule? Would this change the argument? Certainly his taking that personal call in order work around his work schedule resulted in greater availability to work and help his employer.
The main thing that you need to take away from this topic is that there is no shortage of opportunities for your employer to try to skirt liability in your work injury case. Employers often try to use the slightest misstep to avoid responsibility for the injuries of their employees.
Additionally, there is no "one-size-fits-all" definition for course and scope. Clearly, we can differentiate between examples between when someone is definitely within course and scope and when one is definitely not, but there are many scenarios that lie in between. When the answer of whether or not an employee is within the course and scope is open to debate, juries have the final say.
We are fond of saying that the job of a defense lawyer, the lawyer who represents your employer, is to "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks". Which is to say that they will try every defense, no matter how implausible, that could potentially help their clients. Many defenses that an employer's attorney uses are not used to prove fault in the case, but to limit the amount of damages their client may have to pay. In other words, they don't have to beat you flat-out; they just have to form arguments that cause your case to suffer in some manner or another.
Given that the course and scope of employment can be fluid and, at times, vague, it is one of the more common arguments defense attorneys advance in an effort to help employers avoid liability for work injuries. However, thorough investigation usually shows that in most work accidents, injured workers were certainly furthering the interests of their employer.
How an experienced work accident attorney can help you overcome the course and scope defense.
Grossman Law Offices isn't in the business of being a nuisance or an obstacle for your employer. We're in the business of sending a loud message to your employer through their bottom line. Negligence is never tolerable, and, if you are hurt through your employer's carelessness, we'll make them pay for it. Call (855) 326-0000 to schedule your free consultation.
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