It happens frequently: An employee is driving to, from, or during work, in a personal or company car. Then an accident occurs.
Is the employer liable?
These accidents are so pervasive that many agencies and companies publish safety handbooks and guidelines about the subject—for example, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes.
Motor vehicle crashes are estimated to cost employers more than $60 billion annually, with about 15 percent resulting from distracted driving (for example, texting or other cell phone use).
An Employer’s Liability is Not Automatic
The boss is not automatically liable or at fault, even if the driver used a company car. Several grounds (or legal theories) may come into play:
- Respondeat superior
- Negligent hiring or retention
- Negligent lending of a vehicle
- Negligent maintenance of a vehicle
These are discussed more fully below.
Your experienced motor vehicle accident attorney can help you navigate this maze, including bringing claims (filing suit) against the careless driver and the employer.
Respondeat superior. Latin for “let the master answer,” respondeat superior is also referred to as vicarious liability. The driver who caused the accident is primarily liable. Respondeat superior essentially says that the superior / supervisor should take responsibility for the actions of any subordinates, which makes the employer secondarily liable. Both employee and employer are often sued together as co-defendants, but for practical reasons, the case is more vigorously pursued against the employer, who may have deeper pockets (that is, more insurance, assets, or net worth).
Liability is not automatic. The employee must act within the scope of employment at the time of the accident. If, for example, the employee was running a personal errand or on a lunch break when the crash occurred, the employer may not face liability under respondeat superior.
Negligent retention or hiring. Did the employer hire a bad employee? For example, does the employee have a criminal history or poor driving record? Does the employee have drug or alcohol issues that the employer should or could reasonably have known about? If these concerns came to the employer’s attention after hiring, what did the employer do? Should the employer have fired the employee, or changed the duties to restrict or eliminate driving? The answers to these questions can form the grounds for a negligent retention or hiring case.
Negligent lending of vehicle. Similar to negligent retention or hiring, here the focus is on whether the employer lent a company vehicle to an employee unfit to drive.
Negligent maintenance. Did the employer regularly and properly inspect and maintain vehicles? Were brakes, tires, headlights, and taillights in good operating condition? If not, and they contributed to the accident, the employer may face liability.
Hurt in an Accident? Call an Experienced Richmond, Virginia, Personal Injury Attorney Today for Help
If you were hurt or in an accident, don’t delay. Virginia law may entitle you to compensation for your injuries. Trust the experienced, caring professionals at Emroch & Kilduff, where we provide personal attention for personal injury. We are seasoned personal injury lawyers with decades of expertise. We listen. We will answer your questions, evaluate your circumstances, and discuss your options.
Call us right away at (804) 358-1568 or contact us confidentially. Our legal team will make you our priority and put your mind at ease.