Employer Liability for Car Accidents

You just got in a car accident and the driver of the other automobile (who was at fault) was driving a company car or in his own vehicle but on the clock at work. Who's liable for your damages: the other driver and/or his employer?

Vicarious Liability for Employee Negligence

California law clearly states that if an individual is driving a vehicle to perform work duties or to do something for his/her employer, then the driver's employer is liable for any injuries resulting from a car accident where the employee was at fault. An employer is liable for torts (e.g. personal injury from a car accident) committed by the employee within the course and scope of employment.

This rule applies to both private businesses and public agencies. In addition, an individual who has suffered an injury from this type of a car accident in San Fernando Valley (whether as a driver, passenger, bicyclist, or pedestrian) can take action against the employer to recover losses.

Employee vs. Independent Contractor

An employer is vicariously liable for the actions of his employees, even if the employer is not directly responsible for the injury. This relationship exisits because an employee is subject to the employer's control in the context of employment duties.

The employer/employee relationship is different from the employer/independent contractor relationship in terms of vicarious liability. An employer is not vicariously liable for the negligent actions of its independent contractors. Your personal injury lawyer will work with you to prove that the driver who injured you was an employee of the company and therefore, the employer is liable for your injuries.

Scope of Employment

Was the employee driving as a part of his job when he caused the car accident? It is important to note that an employer is only liable for an employee's negligent actions if the employee was acting within the scope of his employment. An employer's ownership of the vehicle driven by the employee at the time of the accident does not automatically empose liability on the employer. These three factors are helpful in determining whether the employee was 'on the job':

[1] Was the conduct "of the kind" that the agent was hired to perform?

  • The "nature of the conduct" must be similar or incidental to the "nature of the job."

[2] Did the tort occur "on the job" (i.e. within the time and space limits of employment)?

  • Minor deviation from the employer's direction ("detour") is usually within the scope.
  • Substantial deviation is usually outside of the scope. Your car accident lawyer will help you determine whether the deviation was minor or substantial.
  • Example #1: running errands in a personal car during lunch is not work-related, but could be "on the job" if the employee also performed tasks for work.
  • Example #2: commuting to and from work is not work-related, but it would be "on the job" if the employee was asked to make stops on the way.

[3] Was the conduct actuated, at least in part, to benefit the employer?

  • Trips with multiple purposes are within the scope ofemployment if any substantial purpose of the employer is served.

Your attorney will discuss these factors with you, and how they relate to your specific case, in further detail.

Employer Negligence

An employer may be directly liable for negligence in hiring or supervision. When an employer hires an employee who will be driving, the employer has a duty to exercise reasonable due diligence to ensure that the employee is a safe driver. Did the employer hire a driver with a long history of negligent driving, traffic tickets, suspended licenses, and the like?

Topics:  Car Accident, Employer Liability Issues, Independent Contractors, Negligence

Published In: Labor & Employment Updates, Personal Injury Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Barry P. Goldberg, A Professional Law Corporation | Attorney Advertising

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