Is the employer liable in an employee car accident?
Car accident liability is a subset of employment law that can easily get complicated, especially in situations where the employer may be at fault for employee actions. In general accidents, the person who caused the accident is responsible for the damages and injuries caused. However, this may not stand if the driver involved in an accident was performing assigned job duties. Such scenarios open an opportunity to hold both the employee and employer responsible.
Unfortunately, determining if the employer is responsible for employee actions is daunting. In most cases, it trickles down to the circumstances surrounding the crash, statutes, and employer’s role. Employers are liable to employee car accidents in the following situations;
1. Respondeat Superior
Under the Respondeat Superior theory, which means “the superior should answer,” employers should be held liable for employee mistakes. This theory helps in spreading the risks to those who are best positioned to bear them. However, since the employer didn’t commit the accident, the allocation of responsibility is considered as a “vicarious liability.”
That said, an employers’ vicarious liability is limited to employee accidents that occur while performing work-related assignments. For instance, if an employed plumber installs pipes incorrectly, the contractor may be responsible for damages and repair costs of the sloppy work. The main point of determination is if the accident or injury occurred while the employee was engaged.
Vicarious liability is applicable in two ways. As mentioned, the employer becomes automatically responsible for accidents caused by an employee while performing work-related activities. For instance, if an employee using a company car to pick documents runs a red light and causes an accident, the employer will be liable for the accident, despite being absent at the scene.
On the other hand, the employer won’t be automatically responsible for all their employee actions. A good example is if an employee causes an accident while heading to work. Since the employee wasn’t performing work-related duties and not on the payroll, employers will unlikely be liable through vicarious liability.
2. Employer negligence
Employers are also directly liable to an employee car accident if the accident occurred due to their negligence. Employers should evaluate candidates thoroughly before onboarding, especially if driving duties are included in the job description. A common case of employer negligence is employee hiring and retention. Employers will become liable for employee car accidents if they don’t conduct driving checks before hiring.
Similarly, the employer is liable for such accidents if they retain an employee despite demonstrating patterns of safety driving violations and frequent driving accidents without providing training or taking disciplinary measures against the employee.
Negligent vehicle maintenance is another aspect of employee negligence that transfers car accident liabilities to the employer. Maintenance of company cars, such as buses and delivery trucks, is the sole responsibility of the employer. Therefore, if the accident results from inadequate maintenance, the employer takes all the liability. An exception might only be made if the employer had subcontracted maintenance responsibilities to a third-party company.
Employers might also face liability for their employee car accidents due to negligent supervision. Employers should institute and enforce safety protocols for all workers. They should also ensure that their employees follow the state or country traffic laws to the latter. For instance, delivery companies with trucks should ensure that their truck drivers follow the federal and state trucking laws. Therefore, failure to ensure that drivers comply with local regulations makes them liable.
Special liability rules for motor vehicle use
The “scope of employment” rule could be modified under special circumstances if the employee involved in the accident wasn’t working when the accident occurred. For instance, a California court ruled that an auto dealership company was liable for injuries caused by one of their employee who rear-ended another car while handling personal errands with the company car.
The employer’s liability for the case was not based on the “Respondeat Superior” principle but rather Section 17150 of the Vehicle Code Section. According to the statute, an employer assumes liability if they give expressed or implied permission to an employee to use a company car for personal errands.
Besides, in the case, the dealership had detailed procedures that should be followed before an employee checks out with company vehicles. Therefore, the court concluded that the company did not take sufficient measures to ensure that employees don’t use company vehicles for personal errands.
Courts may also make “special risks exceptions” for employer liability. While employers are not liable for accidents caused by an employee outside the scope of work, they might be liable in specific situations. A case in point is if the employee causes an accident due to work-related injuries while driving home after work.
Get legal assistance
Accidents can occur through countless possibilities causing third-party injuries and employer liability. Therefore, employers should review internal policies guiding vehicle use and their employees’ ability to avoid vicarious liabilities. Holding employers liable for their employees’ actions is complicated, thus best if left to employment lawyers.