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How Does Liability for Employees and Company Cars Work?

How Liability Works For Accidents Involving Company Vehicles.

Many of the clients that we've helped over 25 years have been injured by employees while they were in the performance of their job. There is an important distinction to be made to between a regular commuter on their way to work and, say, a delivery driver, when their negligence caused an injury.

But here's the tricky part. Sometimes, the delivery driver's actions are entirely his fault and no one else is liable for them. Yet, sometimes, the delivery driver is negligent and his employer is liable for his actions. In some scenarios, the employer and the employee can both have committed wrongful acts that caused the accident. Further still, we can envision scenarios where the driver is liable and the employer is not liable, yet, an arrangement that exists between the employer and the driver may make the employer financially responsible even though they are not technically liable. As you can see, when an accident involves and on-the-clock employee or a company vehicle, the legal implications are anything but simple.

In this article, attorney Michael Grossman will detail who is liable when one is injured in an accident with an employee in a company vehicle in Texas.

Questions answered on this page:

  • How do we determine who is liable in an accident with an on-the-clock employee in Texas?
  • Who bears liability, the employee or the employer?
  • What circumstances determine financial reliability?
  • What is "respondeat superior" and what does this mean for my accident with a company car?

How do we determine who is liable in an accident with a company vehicle?

We approach the accident as we would every other accident caused by the negligent actions of others. However, our investigation goes a step further in that we must investigate the safety record of both the company and the driver. Gathering crucial evidence on both can reveal trends that would otherwise not exist within the realm of just the single accident between you and the company car. We also take a look at the company's training methods to identify any blatant shortfalls that may have contributed to putting an untrained or under-trained driver on the road. And, of course, we look at the background of the driver. Obviously, it is unwise to hire an employee whose sole duty is to drive, when they have a poor driving record.

Companies hire drivers with poor driving records all the time. In fact, we've litigated against many companies who have hired truck-drivers, delivery drivers, and traveling sales personnel who have had egregious moving violations already on their record prior to being hired at the company. There is no excuse for that lack of execution in background investigations. Yet, it keeps on happening. Thus, the company is then justifiably roped into the negligence equation due to their inability or straight-up willful ignorance of the negligent driver's record. This is called "negligent hiring". This type of negligence is very common amongst trucking companies, but also extends into the realm of food delivery drivers and those who have a company vehicle.

Who bears liability? The employee or employer?

Under the theory of "resondeat superior", an employer is vicariously liable for the negligence of an employee acting within the course and scope of employment, even if the employer personally was not negligent. Of course, when a latin phrase is involved, it requires further explanation. The elements of liability under the respondeat superior are:

  • The plaintiff was injured as the result of negligence.
  • The negligent party was an employee of the defendant.
  • The negligence was committed while the employee was acting within the course and scope of employment.

In other words, the employer is liable for the negligent actions of an employee, even if the employer was not personally responsible for the negligent actions, due to the fact that the negligent action occurred within the course and scope of employment.

This being said, let's say Bob the pizza delivery driver decided to go on a Texas sized rampage with his delivery van. He runs through stops signs, smashes over mailboxes, and sideswipes two vehicles and the occupants of those vehicles suffer serious injuries. This scenario does not fall under the resondeat superior theory because Bob was clearly not within the course and scope of his employment when he decided to tear up half of Dallas.

With this same scenario in mind, let's say, upon further investigation we find out that Jimmy John's who hired Bob, knew about his background of wreckless driving and attempted vehicular manslaughter which dates back to 2008. Now Jimmy John's is back on the hook due to negligent hiring practices. This is a good example of how quickly an accident investigation can ebb and flow with the facts as we continue to dig into the background of the company and the driver.

Other reasons an employer could be held liable for an accident include negligent hiring, training, and supervision. In the end, it boils down to this: If the employee who caused your accident was on the road in order to further his employer's business, then the employer can be held financially responsible as well as liable for what happened to you. He's financially responsible because he owns the vehicle the employee was driving when the accident occurred. He's liable for the accident because the employee was on the clock and acting in his interests at the time.

Proving this is no simple task. Just because an employee was in a company car, or even on the road during a business trip, doesn't mean his employer is automatically on the hook for your injuries and losses. There are several exceptions to the law that employers often try to wrongly hide behind. Here are a few examples.

  • The Coming-and-Going Rule: Employers are not responsible for their employees who are driving home from work to from home to work. The reasons for this vary, but in general, workers aren't seen as truly furthering their employers' businesses in their daily commute.
  • The Employee Wasn't In The Course-and-Scope Of His Employment: Many cases come down to this. Just because it's working hours or the employee happened to be in a company car, that doesn't mean he was working. For example, if a pizza delivery driver diverts from his route to swing by his house to grab some CDs, then he's temporarily left the course and scope of employment.

Further, employers often exploit inexperienced attorneys who simply don't know that the law can hold them liable. Your attorney will need to request relevant documents from the employer's files like time sheets, emails and text messages, work orders, and anything else that can potentially tie the employee's road trip to his employment. Further, the employee and his direct boss will likely need to be put under oath to answer specific questions about the employee's actions.

Being financially responsible but not liable for an accident.

Even though an employee may be driving a company vehicle, that doesn't necessarily mean that he's conducting the company's business. If the employee is off the clock and gets into an accident, the chances are that he, and not his employer, will be held financially responsible. Let's look at an example.

  • Robert hires John to deliver pizzas for his pizza delivery business. John goes out one night and delivers ten pizzas. On his way back to the restaurant, he stops at a liquor store and buys drinks for a party he's going to later that night. While leaving the liquor store, he gets into an accident in the parking lot, injuring the driver.

In this specific example, John's jaunt to the liquor store was not within the course-and-scope of his employment, so Robert, his employer, would not be considered liable for the ensuing accident. However, he would still be considered financially responsible. This is because the company car which John was driving still belongs to Robert's business, and it's Robert who's paying the insurance premiums on it. So while, in this instance, Robert's monthly insurance payment may go up, he would not be made to pay for any injuries John caused the other driver in the parking lot of the liquor store.

No matter how your car accident happened, you need an attorney.

If you suspect that the person who hit you was on the job, that's just the beginning. Accidents involving company vehicles can be very complex and will often involve an employer who claims they should not be held responsible for any accidents their employees make. You'll need an attorney to help find out the truth, and then hold all responsible parties to account. We've been doing that for the last 25 years, and we can do it for you, as well. Call us at (855) 326-0000 now.

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