If an employee is driving while on the job and hits you causing an auto accident, who is liable? The company or the employee?
Someone hits and damages your car, and the accident puts you in the hospital for a few days. In addition, there’s an added wrinkle: the driver of the other automobile was an employee of a company. Who’s liable for the commercial vehicle accident? The employee? The company? Both? Well, it gets more complicated. Learn how this situation could shake out.
Employer Liability in Car Accidents
Generally, the Company Answers for the Employee’s Mistakes
Companies have a lot more money than employees. They also likely have much better insurance coverage. And it is, of course, easier for the company to afford the insurance.
A legal principle called “respondeat superior,” which means “the superior must answer” basically says those who are most able to handle risk must bear it. And practically speaking, that means the company is generally responsible.
There Are Exceptions to Company Responsibility
A legal test applies to this situation. It checks whether the employee’s conduct was “incidental,” or a normal part of the business the employer engages in.
For example, say the employee was driving a pickup truck to deliver lumber to a construction site. That’s in the course of the company’s normal business, and it probably means the company is liable.
But, let’s say that employee got wasted at the bar and did some cocaine and decided to drive. Then, when they hit you, they get upset with you, get out of their truck, and punch you 3 times.
Courts have found time and again that this conduct falls outside the scope of employment and the employee, not the company, will likely be responsible.
What if the Employee Causes an Auto Accident Doing a Personal Errand with a Work Car?
Now, let’s say that employee needed to go pick up their child from school. They take their work pickup truck to do it. And they hit you on the way home.
In this case, likely the employee. Since this conduct is not “incidental” to the job, the employee would likely be responsible. This is often referred to as a “frolic” and/or “detour”.
What Happens if a Semi-Truck Hits You?
Now, things get really complicated. That’s because federal law applies to semi trucks. And, since trucking collisions generally cause more damage and severe injuries, more money’s on the table.
Trucking companies don’t want to pay. They actually have legal teams assembled whose only goal is to minimize or eliminate your payout.
Responsibility does get murky, and that’s why it’s important to get the best personal injury lawyer possible to represent your interests.
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Shane V. Mullen is an attorney licensed by the State of Texas for the general practice of law, and the Managing Partner at Mullen & Mullen Law Firm in Dallas, TX. His firm focuses exclusively on personal injury law and has been in business for 40 years. Before becoming a lawyer, Shane worked for his father as an accident injury claims investigator.