When Employers Are Legally Liable for Car Accidents
Many people on the road are driving on behalf of their employer rather than for their own purposes. For example, a pizza delivery driver may be rushing to meet a deadline when he rear-ends the car in front of him. A construction worker may be traveling from his work site to meet his supervisor at the office when he gets distracted by his cell phone and misses a stop sign, crashing into another car. When this type of accident happens, the employer may be liable to anyone injured in the accident under a theory of vicarious liability. This can be useful because employers often have more insurance and assets than an individual driver, putting them in a better position to compensate a victim for injuries.
Establishing Vicarious Liability
An employer need not be at fault to be vicariously liable for their employee’s negligence.
This involves showing that the driver who was at fault was acting in the course and scope of their employment when they caused the crash. In the pizza delivery example above, the driver was delivering a pizza for his employer, so vicarious liability probably would apply. If the driver was visiting a friend on his way home from work, this would be a personal errand, so the employer probably would not be liable. Whether the employee was using their own car does not affect the question of whether vicarious liability applies.
A doctrine known as the “going and coming rule” generally prevents employers from being vicariously liable for accidents caused by employees while they are commuting to and from work. Also, employees are not considered to be on the job while they are using their lunch break to handle personal matters. Situations that mix business with personal errands, however, may expose an employer to liability. An accident victim should consult an attorney to find out whether vicarious liability may apply.
Direct Liability of Employers
The key to the vicarious liability concept, and the reason why it can be helpful to personal injury plaintiffs, is that it makes no difference whether the employer was negligent and at fault for the accident. If the evidence suggests that they share some of the blame, however, an accident victim can sue the employer under a theory of direct liability. Perhaps the pizza shop hired a driver who had a record of unsafe driving, or perhaps it imposed delivery policies that encouraged the driver to speed and violate traffic rules. Perhaps a school or school district did not verify that a driver was qualified to operate a bus, or perhaps it did not properly maintain the bus. Some of the common theories that can lead to an employer’s direct liability include negligent hiring, negligent supervision, negligent training, negligent entrustment, and inadequate maintenance.
Not Mutually Exclusive
A plaintiff may sue an employer under both a theory of vicarious liability and a theory of direct liability if the evidence supports both.
Injured in a Car Accident on the Job?
If you were a passenger in a car driven by an at-fault driver when you were both on the job, your main remedy likely is the workers’ compensation system. Employees are not permitted to sue their employer or a coworker for injuries on the job in most situations. However, you do not need to prove that your employer or coworker was at fault. You should explore the workplace accidents section of this website to learn more about workers’ compensation claims.
If you were on the job when you were struck by an at-fault driver who was not your coworker, you may be able to obtain both workers’ compensation benefits and personal injury damages. You would need to prove the driver’s fault in the personal injury claim, but you could recover more types of damages than you could through workers’ compensation. That said, workers’ compensation likely would be entitled to reimbursement from your damages award.