Employer Liability in Car Accident Cases
Who's liable when an employee causes a car accident while "on the clock"?
If a car accident occurs while an individual is driving a vehicle in order to perform his or her work duties or to do something for his or her employer, there may be employer liability. This is most often a problem in cases in which a truck driver or a commercial vehicle driver causes an accident and his or her employer is sued. In any case, whether or not an employer will be liable depends on whether there is some legal reason for assigning responsibility to the employer.
When Does Employer Liability Arise?
There are two main ways that an employer can be held liable for a car accident caused by an employee: negligence on the part of the employer and vicarious liability.
Employer negligence may involve, for instance, negligent hiring of the employee or negligent supervision of the employee. When a company hires someone that they know will be driving a company vehicle, the employer has a duty to exercise reasonable due diligence in order to make sure that the employee is a safe driver.
At a minimum, if the employee is going to be driving a commercial vehicle, the employer should make sure that the employee has a commercial driver's license that is in good standing and that has not been suspended. Many employers also take additional precautions like checking a past driving record or performing drug testing.
Negligent supervision is another way in which an employer can become responsible for employee accidents. Employers should have reasonable safety policies in place and should make sure all of their drivers comply with safety laws. This means if an employer has truck drivers working for him/her, the employer should make sure the drivers follow logging requirements set by federal and state law and that cargo is properly weighted and loaded. If an employer fails to check and make sure that the employee is exhibiting reasonable care and skill in doing the job required, then that employer is liable for negligence.
Vicarious liability doesn't necessarily require that the employer was negligent in any way themselves. Vicarious liability is a doctrine of law that asserts that the actions of an agent are essentially the same as the actions of the principle directing the agent. This means that an employer is considered to be the "principle", and when the employer tells employees (the agents) to do something, it is just as if the principle is the one acting. Of course, this rule only applies if the agent is actually in the process of doing something for the principle at the time when the accident happened.
For example, if an employee is sent to the store to pick up copies and got into an accident on the way to picking up those copies, then the employer could be liable. If the employee decides to stop for coffee on the way back and gets into an accident while getting coffee, he/she isn't acting on behalf of the employer/agent, so the employer usually won't be responsible. There are also usually exceptions that an employer will not be liable for intentional bad acts done by the employee, so if the employee decides he wants to run someone over, the employer won't be at fault.
If you have been involved in an accident in which employer liability might become an issue, consulting with a lawyer is recommended. Your attorney can explain to you what liability rules will apply in your case and how your legal rights can be best protected based on the situation that led to the accident.