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06.23.2017

This week, in Pagayon, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., the Texas Supreme Court tackled the question of whether an employer owes a duty to supervise its employees in the context of a wrongful death case arising from a fist fight between an employee, his father, and another employee.

First, the Court clarified that it has never adopted the broad duty imposed under Section 317 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Instead, the question of whether a duty exists is one for the Court to decide based on the risk, foreseeability, and likelihood of injury, the magnitude of the burden, the consequences of imposing such a burden, and the social utility. The Court specified that these "factors do not support the broad duty of reasonable care in all situations that Section 317 would impose."

Next, the Court applied each of these factors to this case and reached the following conclusions:

(1) The risk of such an occurrence was small.

(2) Because the disagreements between these individuals prior to the time of the fight were limited to minor verbal disagreements, the foreseeability of injury was small and the likelihood of injury was too remote.

(3) In order to "discharge a duty to prevent an occurrence such as this, an employer would be required to investigate almost every employee complaint and monitor every situation." Such a burden would be significant.

(4) The result in this case was "bizarre" considering the brevity and nature of the fight "and the slightness of the provocation;" therefore, extending liability to the employer in this type of situation could "render the employer liable for the most extreme consequences of simple employee friction." In other words, the consequences of imposing such a burden could be extreme.

(5) Under these circumstances, "the public was never in danger;" therefore, any social utility in imposing liability in such a case would be minimal.

For these reasons, the Court concluded "that an employer in a situation like the one presented here owes no duty to supervise its employees." Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and rendered judgment for Exxon Mobil Corp.