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Negligence claim against employer for carpool deaths tossed


A poultry processing plant worker who had been giving two of his co-workers a ride to work was not acting “in the course and scope of his employment” when the car collided with a school bus, killing the two workers, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled Thursday in tossing a negligence suit filed by family of the deceased.

In June 2015, Senah Carter was employed at Mar-Jac Poultry MS LLC as a driver responsible for bringing chicken in and out for the employees on the line and throwing away wet pallets and empty boxes. Mr. Carter was not assigned any other job responsibilities, according to documents in Mar-Jac Poultry MS LLC v. Patricia Love, et. al., filed in Jackson, Mississippi.

In September 2015, Mr. Carter asked a plant supervisor if Mar-Jac had any job openings for Lishanay Wilks, who lived in his home, and Keannie Love, who was Ms. Wilks’ friend. Two spots were available, the supervisor told him, asking “if the two women would be able to show up for work.” Mr. Carter told him “that he would ‘bring ‘em to work.’” The supervisor responded that if the women could be there the next morning, Mr. Carter could “bring them on down here” so they could start work. Mr. Carter testified that he was never told that he was expected or required by Mar-Jac to bring the two women to work every day.

Mr. Carter drove Ms. Wilks and Ms. Love to work almost every day for approximately three weeks, with the women giving him a few dollars for gas. On Sept. 22, 2015, Mr. Carter was driving to Mar-Jac with the two women when he drove his vehicle into the back of a school bus. Both women were killed.

In 2016, plaintiffs and family members Patricia Love and Lawshawn Miller, on behalf of the two deceased women, filed a complaint in Covington County Circuit Court, asserting claims for negligence, negligence per se and wrongful death against Carter and against Mar-Jac.

“Attached to the complaint was an affidavit signed by Carter, which stated that Carter believed driving Wilks and Love was part of his normal work assignment,” documents state. “An affidavit signed by Patricia Love also was attached, stating that Carter had told her that he provided transportation for Wilks and Love because Mar-Jac told him to do it as part of his job duties.”

“Citing inapplicable workers’ compensation cases and cases from other jurisdictions, the Plaintiffs alleged that Carter was on a ‘special mission’ for Mar-Jac at the time of the car accident and, thus, was acting in the course and scope of his employment,” documents state.

Mar-Jac Poultry filed a motion for summary judgment, “arguing that Carter was not acting within the course and scope of his employment with Mar-Jac at the time of the car accident and that Mar-Jac was not liable for Carter’s negligence.”

The plaintiffs, meanwhile, argued that Mr. Carter “was told by his supervisors and his superiors at work that he was in charge of making sure these women got to work on time. That was his job,” documents state.

A bench trial court in 2017 denied Mar-Jac’s motion for summary judgment, issuing “a written order finding that a genuine dispute of material fact existed.”

Mar-Jac appealed. With one justice dissenting, the state Supreme Court reversed, writing: “based on the evidence presented, we find that the trial court erred in denying Mar-Jac’s motion for summary judgment, for it is undisputed that the driver was not acting in the course and scope of his employment with Mar-Jac when the accident occurred. Thus, we reverse, and we render summary judgment in favor of Mar-Jac.”

The dissenting judge called for a jury trial, adding that evidence needs to be tried.

“In the workers’ compensation context, there is also a recognized exception to the coming-and-going rule — when the employee was involved in a special mission or errand for his employer,” the judge wrote. “Carter was not acting as an individual on his own account in this case. Instead, Carter was authorized and even encouraged to bring two Mar-Jac employees to work,” the judge also wrote.

Lawyers and the company involved could not immediately be reached for comment.


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