When you see a company’s vehicle on the road, you assume the company gave that employee driver safety training. You might even assume they’re a responsible driver. Many people learn the hard way that employee drivers are not always the safest. If you’ve gotten into an accident with a company vehicle, you may be wondering “is an employer liable for an employee’s car accident?” The answer to that question depends on a number of factors. Read on to learn all about them.
Is an Employer Liable for an Employee’s Car Accident?
Many people find themselves asking this question when they get in an accident with a company vehicle. After all, if a person is driving a company vehicle, shouldn’t the company be liable for the actions of the person they allow in the vehicle? If the company wasn’t prepared to pay for their actions, why would they allow that person to drive the vehicle?
Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry answer to these questions. The answer lies in state case law rather than in actual laws and regulations
About Respondeat Superior
How do courts determine whether an employer is vicariously liable for harm caused by their employees? They utilize the doctrine of respondeat superior that has been refined over time by the courts.
The doctrine of respondeat superior is a part of tort law. It holds employers responsible when an employee or agent commits a wrongful act within the scope of their employment or agency. It may sound simple, but it needs unpacking.
Wondering why courts would hold employers responsible for the actions of employees? There are a few reasons for this.
First, courts want to stop wrongful conduct from recurring. They also want to make sure that victims receive compensation when they’re injured. Finally, they want to make sure that the companies who benefit from the employee’s acts bear the burden of recouping a person’s losses.
Defining “In the Scope of Employment”
There are two key terms that courts will analyze to determine if a business is responsible. The first is whether the person who caused the accident was acting within the scope of employment.
One part of this equation boils down to whether, at the time of the accident, the employee was executing a duty in their job description.
Assume a delivery driver drives the company vehicle to and from work. If they cause an accident on the way to work, then they are acting outside the scope of their employment. If the driver was on their way to make a delivery, then you could argue that they were acting within the scope of their employment.
Another consideration is how substantially the behavior deviates from their job duties. If an employee is driving 100 miles per hour, then the company could potentially avoid responsibility because that is not a risk that the business owner could anticipate.
Likewise, if the driver was carefully obeying all traffic laws and still managed to be at fault for an accident, then the employer would have a harder time avoiding responsibility.
Are They an Employee or Independent Contractor?
Another factor a court will consider is whether the person who caused the accident was an employee or an independent contractor. Businesses are often not liable for the acts of independent contractors, even if they are driving a company vehicle.
Employees are generally hired by the company to perform duties for that company only and fill out W-4 tax forms when they are hired. Independent contractors perform job duties for many different companies and typically receive 1099 forms during tax season.
When it is unclear whether a person is actually an employee, courts will look at a number of factors to clarify. These factors include the amount of control the person has over how and when they do their work, how they are paid, and whether there is an ongoing relationship with employee-type benefits.
Considerations for California
It’s important to note that different states define this portion of respondeat superior differently. For example, California courts define the term “employee” broadly enough that independent contractors, temporary employees, and even third parties can be considered to be an employee for the purposes of this doctrine.
With California laws changing on a regular basis, you can expect the line between an employee and non-employee to continue to get blurrier.
What to Do If You’re in an Accident
Regardless of who is financially liable when you’re in a car accident, you are entitled to receive compensation for your damages.
Take photographs of the scene, and jot down your recollection of the accident as soon as you have a chance. Remember that many injuries take time to show up, so it’s important not to state that you are not injured on the scene.
Never hesitate to contact an attorney if you need help after an accident. In fact, it’s a good rule of thumb to reach out to an attorney immediately after an accident to determine your next steps.
Do You Need Legal Help After a Car Accident?
Getting into a car accident with a company vehicle is a scary thing. Is an employer liable for an employee’s car accident? They might be if you can demonstrate that the driver of the vehicle was acting in the scope of his or her job and that they were an employee and not an independent contractor.
Regardless of whether the employer or the employee is responsible for the accident, you should not hesitate in seeking compensation for your damages. Make sure to have an experienced attorney on your side to get you what you deserve. Contact Sweet Lawyers today to learn how we can help you!