Scope of employment….

The cafeteria worker finished her shift at 2:30, but failed to “clock out.” Exactly 12 minutes later she struck a student with her car, flipping him into the air. The student had a skull fracture and a traumatic brain injury. The court’s opinion in the subsequent lawsuit tells us that the student has since had multiple brain surgeries and is relearning how to walk, eat, and otherwise function.

The injured student sued the school district and the case largely turned on where the cafeteria worker was headed, and why she was headed there. That mattered because school districts are legally liable for injuries that result from a motor vehicle accident only when the driver of the vehicle was negligent, and was acting within the “scope of employment.” The school district sought to dismiss the case, arguing that the driver was not within the scope of her employment.

She was driving to the school admin building to meet with someone from HR who could answer some questions she had about her health insurance. So the lawyer for the student emphasized that she was driving from one school building to another, and was going into a meeting with a representative of the school district who could clarify some questions about the district-issued health insurance plan.

However, that was not enough to convince the court that the driver was acting within the scope of employment. Her shift was over. She was no longer on the clock and the fact that she failed to “clock out” did not change that. She was not being paid. Her supervisor did not tell her to drive to the admin building, or to meet with the HR representative about the health insurance. In short, the cafeteria worker was on a personal errand when this accident occurred. The school district is not liable.

Notice, however, that the case did not turn on whose car she was driving. She was driving her personal car, but that was not the relevant issue. If her supervisor had directed her to report to another campus due to a shortage in the cafeteria, it’s very likely that the court would have viewed that as being within the scope of her employment.

It’s a sad case all around. The student was seriously injured and the worker was fired and pled guilty to assault with serious bodily injury. It’s Alief ISD v. Velazquez, decided by the Court of Appeals in Houston on May 18, 2023. It’s located at 2023 WL 3555495.


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Tomorrow: UIL classifications