Employer Liability for DWI Accidents Part 1: Scope of Employment

The scope of employment issue is very important in determining whether an employer is liable for harm caused by an employee in a DWI auto accident. Among the questions to be asked in these cases is whether intoxication took the employee outside the scope of employment?

Intoxication Can Constitutes Abandonment of Employee Relationship

New Mexico courts have determined that intoxication as a rule (with exceptions) constitutes abandonment of employment. It is assumed that intoxication renders an employee incapable of performing his or her duties. Specifically, even if driving is foreseeable and reasonable as part of employment, DWI driving is not.

Activity of Employee Must Benefit Employer

To remain within the scope of employment, the employee’s activities that led to an accident must have been for the benefit of the employer. This is where the issue gets more complicated. Moreover, employers often make opposite arguments depending upon whether the accident caused harm only to the employee or to others.

Employee Alone Harmed

In cases where the harm was strictly to the employee, the employer will typically argue that the employee was within the scope of employment. Why would they do this? The answer is simple; they want to limit their financial responsibility for the accident.

In a case where only the employee is hurt, if the employee is acting within the scope of employment, the employer gets the protection of the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Act. Under the Workers’ Compensation exclusive remedy provisions, the employee has only the benefit of the rather meager compensation available under the Act.  For work related injuries, the employee cannot sue the employer for personal injury or wrongful death with very rare exception.

Other Non-Employees Harmed

Not surprisingly, the employer will make the exact opposite argument if a someone other than the employee is harmed. In these cases, the employer will say that the employee was not acting within the scope of employment. Why? Again, it is to reduce financial responsibility for the harm caused.

If the employee in these cases is not within the scope of employment, the employer can shield itself from responsibility or liability for the harm caused by the employee.

Evidence Challenge to Victims of Employee DWI Accident

Non-Employee Scope of Employment Evidence

The challenge to the non-employee victim of a DWI accident caused by an employee is to show that the accident occurred within the scope of employment so that the person can seek compensation through the employer’s insurance.

Employee Scope of Employment Evidence

Interestingly, an employee inured by his or her own DWI accident may have a legal claim against the employer in certain situations involving negligent entrustment of the vehicle. The employee to escape the limitation of the Workers’ Compensation Act exclusive remedy provisions would want to prove he or she was outside the scope of employment when the accident occurred.

Seek Experienced Legal Guidance

As might be surmised, these cases can get quite complicated in determining who all shares in the responsibility for the accident. This matters because this determination will determine what insurance coverage is available for compensation to the victims.

Collins & Collins, P.C. has significant experience in the many areas relevant to these claims: DWI auto accidents, insurance coverage and Workers’ Compensation exclusive remedies. We can be reached online or by phone at (505) 242-5958. There are no attorney fees or costs unless you are compensated.

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