Car, truck, and motorcycle accidents occur every day. And they can occur at any time of the day—including work hours. If you are an employee whose responsibilities at work include making deliveries, transporting passengers, or hauling a truckload of goods across the country, you understand the risk of being in a car crash—the more you are on the road, the greater your chance of being in a wreck.
An employer also could be liable for damages caused by their employee if the employer was negligent in hiring or training the employee or entrusting them with a vehicle. The top personal injury lawyers from Foster Wallace discuss this and more in the article below.
Determining if an Employer May Be Held Liable After a Car Accident
Whether you are an employee or employer, you may not know that when an employee is involved in a car wreck while performing their responsibilities at work, the employer may be responsible for any damages that result. This is based on a legal theory called “vicarious liability.”Likewise, if you are an employer who has employees who must drive a vehicle to perform their duties at work, you know that there is always a risk that one of your employees may be involved in a car accident while working.
What Is “Vicarious” Liability”?
When a car wreck occurs, there are times when a third party, who was not involved in the accident, may be liable for the damages of the parties who were in the accident. A third party may be liable if the person who caused the accident was acting on their behalf when the accident occurred. This liability assumed by the third party is called “vicarious liability.” One specific kind of vicarious liability through which an employer may be liable for the negligence of an employee is called “respondeat superior.”
What Is “Respondeat Superior”?
Respondeat superior is a kind of vicarious liability which literally means, “Let the master answer.” Respondeat superior applies when someone sues a company or employer for damages caused by their employee, who was negligent while doing their job and caused damages to third parties.
To win a claim under the doctrine of respondeat superior, the victim must prove that:
- The employee or agent of the employer was negligent
- The employee or agent was acting within the scope of their authority at the time of the accident
When is an employee acting within the scope of their authority?
An employee acts within the scope of their authority when they are performing the responsibilities that are required of their job. For example, if an employee’s responsibility is to deliver pizzas in the company car, then most likely they are authorized to use the car to deliver pizzas to the customers’ locations and to return to the pizza shop after delivery. If an accident occurs while the employee is performing the tasks that their employer authorized them to do, then they are “acting within the scope of their authority.” If the delivery person causes an accident while delivering pizzas, then the victim may sue the employer for damages that the employee caused under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
However, If the pizza deliverer decides to stop at the bowling alley after delivering the pizzas but before returning to the pizza shop and causes an accident in the parking lot of the bowling alley, then the accident occurred when the employee was not performing the responsibilities of their job and, therefore, was not acting within the scope of their authority. Under these circumstances, the victims of the accident would not be able to sue the employer because the employer did not authorize the employee to go bowling as part of their job responsibilities. The victims may be able to sue the employee personally, but an employer will only be liable for the negligence of their employee when the employee is negligent and causes damage while performing the responsibilities of their job that the employer authorized them to do.
When Might an Employer Be Negligent with Respect to an Employee’s Car Wreck?
Even if the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply, an employer still may be liable for damages resulting from an employee’s accident if the plaintiff (the person can show that the employer, themselves, were negligent. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must show four things:
- The employer had a duty to the plaintiff
- The employer breached their duty
- The employer’s breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
- The plaintiff suffered actual damages
When an employee causes a car wreck, an employer may be shown to be negligent in:
- Hiring the employee. If an employer did not do a proper background check on their employee by confirming a good driving record before hiring them as a driver or requiring them to drive as part of their responsibilities, then the plaintiff could sue the employer for breaching their duty owed to other drivers on the road to only hire drivers with safe driving records.
- Training the employee. If an employer requires an employee to drive an unfamiliar vehicle without training the employee on the proper way to operate the vehicle, the plaintiff may sue the employer for failing to properly train its employees. The plaintiff would have to show that the driver’s lack of training contributed to the cause of the accident.
- Entrusting the employee with a vehicle to drive. An employer also may be negligent by entrusting a vehicle to their employee when the employer knew or should have known that the employee was likely to cause an accident. This could occur when:
- The employer requires the employee to drive, knowing that the employee has a history of causing accidents
- The employee was unable to properly operate the vehicle but the employer entrusts the employee with the vehicle anyway (the driver’s inability to operate the vehicle must be shown to have contributed to the cause of the accident)
- The employer requires the driver to drive for a duration that violates the “number of consecutive driving hours” standards of the industry (the driver’s fatigue must be shown to have contributed to the cause of the accident)
- The employer allows an employee to operate a faulty or overweight vehicle (the poor condition of the vehicle must be shown to have contributed to the cause of the accident)
An employer has a duty to other drivers to allow only safe drivers to operate their vehicles on the road. If an employer breaches this duty by acting in a manner such as those actions listed above, then the employer may be found negligent and liable for damages.
For What Damages Might an Employer Be Liable If an Employee Causes a Car Wreck?
If found to be negligent or vicariously liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be responsible for the damages caused by the employee’s accident. This could include any or all of the following damages:
- Damage to the plaintiff’s vehicle
- Damage to any other property of the plaintiff that was damaged in the accident (computer, clothes, packages, pets, etc.)
- Injuries to any person involved in the accident. This could include:
- Medical bills for tests or treatment
- Cost of an ambulance, if needed
- Cost of follow-up doctor visits
- Rehabilitative therapy
- Loss of salary from being unable to work
- Loss of future income if disabled
- Damage to street signs, lights, trees, etc.
- Injuries suffered by any pedestrians or passengers in other cars, as well as passengers in the employee’s car
Were You or One of Your Employees Involved in a Car Wreck at Work?
If you have been involved in a car wreck while acting within the scope of your duties as an employee, your employer may be vicariously liable for the damages you caused under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Your employer also may be liable for damages if they negligently hired or trained you and you caused the accident, or if your employer provided you with a faulty vehicle, which is shown to be a contributing cause of the accident.
If you need help determining who was at fault for your (or your employee’s) accident and are questioning whether the employer is liable for the negligence of the employee, contact the Kansas City personal injury attorneys at Foster Wallace, LLC, for a free consultation. We will evaluate your case and determine if the doctrine of respondeat superior is relevant and applicable, and we will make sure that all of your interests are protected.