In many ways, car accidents that involve a driver using a company vehicle complicates matters, even if that driver isn’t at fault. The main concern in these types of cases is whether or not the driver of the company vehicle was “on the job” at the time of the accident, or acting in his capacity as an employee of that company. If so, this opens up the company as a whole to liability for the actions of the driver, known as vicarious liability.
What is Vicarious Liability and How Does it Affect Car Accidents?
Under the rules of vicarious liability, businesses are liable for the conduct of their employees, while employed on company business. This means if an employee acts irresponsibly or chooses not to act in a given situation, the employer is liable for the consequences. One example might be a truck driver operating a company-owned vehicle running a stop sign and hitting a pedestrian. In that case, the company can be held responsible for the driver’s actions.
There are stipulations to this rule, however. Foremost, the employee must be engaged in company business, or must be doing something related to that authorized business in order for the employer to be held responsible. Additionally, if the employee is found to be in the act of committing crimes, this negates the employer’s liability to the individual’s actions.
A third consideration is the type of insurance the business carries on its vehicles. If the company’s policies don’t cover drivers, that may be a strong indication that they won’t be held liable in the event of an accident. For employee drivers, this is something you will want to find out ahead of getting behind the wheel of a company vehicle. Even in cases where the company insures its drivers, you may want to adding your own insurance, just to be sure you’ll be protected.
How Does Illicit Activity Affect Vicarious Liability?
In one example, an employee drinks too much wine, during an authorized business lunch, which puts her over the legal limit to drive. On the way back to the office, she misjudges the distance to a motorcycle stopped at an upcoming red light and hits the back end of the bike. While the business lunch was authorized, drinking alcohol in excess of the legal limit is considered criminal activity and releases the employer from responsibility for the accident.
For the operator of the motorcycle, this means the company has the right to refuse to cover medical expenses and other damages. For the employee, her intoxication was the proximate cause of the accident, so she’s similarly left with limited options. She won’t be able to file a claim with her employer’s insurance company, nor is she likely to be approved for worker’s compensation.
What if you’re not committing criminal activity, but you’re just using the company car for a little joyriding? Sometimes, companies supply their employees with luxury cars to impress clients and those vehicles can tempt employees to indulge in a little personal cruising about town. In this case, joyriding, or, as it’s known by some laws, “a frolic,” is not covered by the vicarious liability law, whether the employee was originally engaged in authorized company business or not.
Whatever the original intention, the employee is now acting on his or her own personal agenda and is no longer engaged in business for the company. This releases the employer from liability in the event of an accident and opens up the individual to personal liability. As with the previous example, the employer’s insurance company doesn’t have to pay on claims related to this incident, because the employee was not on company business at the time the accident occurred. Also, worker’s compensation is unlikely to cover the employee’s injuries related to this incident, because the worker wasn’t engaged in work-related activities.
For the victims of accidents involved with employees operating company vehicles, the actions of the employee is vital to pursuing litigation. If the employee wasn’t acting in his capacity as a company representative, any plans to name the business in a complaint or claim may prove futile. If possible, one of the first things you should seek to discover, following a traffic accident, is what the driver of the company car was doing at the time of the accident.