Driving the company car has its perks. You don’t have to pay for gas out of your own pocket. You don’t need to worry about putting miles or wear and tear on your own car. But what happens if you have a car wreck in a company-owned vehicle? Whether it’s a fender bender or a major collision, who pays for it? You? Your employer’s insurance? Can the employer be sued?
The question will turn on whether or not the employee was acting in the scope of his or her employment duties during the time of the car wreck.
When Does Employer Liability Arise?
There are two main ways that an employer can be held liable for a car wreck caused by an employee: negligence on the part of the employer and vicarious liability.
Employer negligence may involve, for instance, negligent hiring of the employee or negligent supervision of the employee. When a company hires someone that they know will be driving a company vehicle, the employer has a duty to exercise reasonable due diligence in order to make sure that the employee is a safe driver.
At a minimum, if the employee is going to be driving a commercial vehicle, the employer should make sure that the employee has a commercial driver’s license that is in good standing and that has not been suspended. Many employers also take additional precautions like checking a past driving record or performing drug testing.
Negligent supervision is another way in which an employer can become responsible for employee accidents. Employers should have reasonable safety policies in place and should make sure all of their drivers comply with safety laws. This means if an employer has truck drivers working for him/her, the employer should make sure the drivers follow logging requirements set by federal and state law and that cargo is properly weighted and loaded. If an employer fails to check and make sure that the employee is exhibiting reasonable care and skill in doing the job required, then that employer is liable for negligence.
In most cases, an employer will be responsible for the actions of their employees under an age-old doctrine of “respondeat superior” or in plainer English, “vicarious liability.” Under vicarious liability, employers are liable for the negligent actions or non-actions of their employers while working in the scope of their employment. For example, a truck driver making a delivery during business hours fails to stop at a red light and hits a pedestrian. Here, the employer will likely be liable because the employee was acting within the scope of his duties and wasn’t committing any crimes.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that for an act to be within the course of employment, it must either be authorized by the employer or be so closely related to an authorized act that an employer should be held responsible. Another important factor is the type of insurance policy the employer carries. Many companies have collision coverage which extends to employees, but some don’t. If you drive a company vehicle, you will likely want to clarify these terms with your employer ahead of time.
If you have been involved in a car wreck in which employer liability might become an issue, consulting with a lawyer is recommended. Your attorney can explain to you what liability rules will apply in your case and how your legal rights can be best protected based on the situation that led to the car wreck. If you or a loved one has been injured in a car wreck due to someone else’s negligence contact the attorneys at Reyes Browne Reilley for a free case review today!