Individual Liability of Corporate Agents and Employees for Negligence in Texas

In Leitch v. Hornsby, the Texas Supreme Court considered the imposition of individual liability upon corporate agents and employees for negligence. 935 S.W.2d 114, 117 (Tex. 1996).

The supreme court has considered this issue, and, in summarizing its opinion in Leitch, explained,

"The defendants are correct that a negligence finding against an individual does not automatically result in individual liability when the individual was acting as the agent or employee of a corporation. Corporations can, of course, only act through individuals. We explained in Leitch v. Hornsby when individual liability will be imposed and when it will not. "Individual liability arises only when the officer or agent owes an independent duty of reasonable care to the injured party apart from the employer's duty."

We gave as an example an agent whose negligence caused an automobile collision while the agent was driving in the course and scope of employment. An agent, in his individual capacity, owes a duty to the public to drive with reasonable care. Therefore, the individual is liable for his or her own negligence, and the employer is also vicariously liable.

The situation in Leitch, however, was different. The corporate agents were not individually liable even though the jury had found them and their employer negligent. In that case, the plaintiff Hornsby was injured when he lifted a sixty-pound reel of cable. There was evidence that his employer, through its officers and employees, had declined to provide Hornsby a lifting belt or dolly. We held that the actions or inactions of the individuals were actions or inactions "within their capacities as officers" of Hornsby's corporate employer and that the individuals "had no individual duty as corporate officers to provide Hornsby with a safe workplace." The individuals were not liable for their negligence because they "did not breach any separate duty" to Hornsby. Only their corporate employer was liable for their negligence." Tri v. J.T.T., 162 S.W.3d 552, 562-63 (Tex. 2005).

In determining that the corporate officers in Leitch could not be held individually liable, the supreme court focused on the fact that the corporate employer bore the "nondelegable duty to use ordinary care in providing the employee with a safe workplace." Leitch, 935 S.W.2d at 118.

Because the duty to provide a safe workplace was a "nondelegable duty imposed on, and belonging solely to" the corporate employer and because the individual corporate officer also being sued for his negligence did not owe the individual employee this duty and did not breach any separate duty, the supreme court held that the individual corporate officer could not be held individually liable for his negligence. Id.; see also Torres v. Trans Health Management, Inc., 509 F. Supp. 2d 628, 632 (W.D. Tex. 2006) (holding that because plaintiff employee alleged that defendant corporate employee and corporate employer committed identical negligent acts related to workplace safety and because "the duty to use ordinary care in providing employees with a safe workplace is non-delegable," Texas law precluded finding of individual liability against defendant corporate employee).