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Followup: Employer Liability and Company Cars (New Information Employees Should Have on Hand)!

Followup: Employer Liability and Company Cars (New Information Employees Should Have on Hand)!

In 2018’s Employer Liability: When Accidents Happen in the Company Car we looked at what goes into determining employer liability when it comes to company issued vehicles. In this thorough followup, we’ll provide new information employees using business-owned vehicles should know in the event they find themselves injured on the clock. Workplace accidents happen to even the most responsible employees, what’s most important is knowing how to proceed on both the medical and legal side when they do.

Who’s responsible for the employee driving a company car?

“The company car” isn’t new. Companies allow their employees to use business-owned vehicles for the purpose of their on-the-job duties. But what happens when an accident occurs while an employee is behind the wheel of a company car? Whether or not an employer can be held liable for an accident heavily relies on the legal aspects of the case, surrounding the employer’s responsibility. This aspect of Personal Injury law is known as employer liability.

When employer liability arises, how, and why it occurs is the basis for this writeup. We’ll thoroughly discuss the types of negligence that could lead to employer liability for business-owned vehicles used by employees. In this writeup we’ll also take a careful look into how a Board Certified Personal Injury lawyer fights to obtain compensation on the behalf of a victim should they become injured while behind the wheel of a company issued vehicle. Whether a case settles during mediation or must go all the way to trial, it’s important that the lawyer representing an injured employee has prior experience with successful workplace injury verdicts.

What liability does the employer have toward employees?

There are two main ways that an employer is normally held responsible (“liable”) for a car accident caused by an employee on the clock, while using a company car:

  • Negligence caused by the employee: this can mean a multitude of things. Usually, it means an employee was acting in a manner that can be considered negligent such as speeding, leaving a door unlocked resulting in the vehicle being stolen. Negligence is defined by carelessness, while recklessness is an act that is known to cause harm and acted upon regardless.
  • Vicarious liability; this principle is directly related to the theory of “Respondeat Superior” as discussed in  Truck Accident Law in Florida: What the Public Needs to Know!

As a reminder, the definition of Vicarious liability is as follows:

“[…]Liability that a supervisory party (such as an employer) bears for the actionable conduct of a subordinate or associate (such as an employee) based on the relationship between the two parties.”

This would mean in a literal sense that the employer bears responsibility for any objectionable conduct on the part of the employee of whom they are in a supervisory capacity of. As described above, negligent actions of the employee can potentially fall upon the employer who hired them.

What is “employer negligence”?

When it comes to good hiring practices, things like background checks, up-to-date training for truck drivers, and thorough training are necessary to prevent accidents and injury that may occur and cost the company a great deal of money in legal fees, should have they have to go to court. Employer negligence can range from hiring an unqualified employee for a position where they are not suited to failing to perform a background check on an employee with a criminal record, who then drives under the influence while on the clock and puts the public in danger while behind the wheel.

There are minimum requirements that must be met (preferably exceeded) if the employee is hired to drive a commercial vehicle (for truck driver employment, these would fall under FMCSA standards). The employer should first ensure a potential hire’s driver’s license is not suspended, has never been suspended in the past, and that they do not carry any violations or infractions on their record. In other words, driving for a company means the potential hire must have a completely clean criminal and driving history. Drug and alcohol testing will be performed prior to hiring the employee and can be obtained at random with no notice to the employee after hire should the employer have a reason to suspect it is necessary. Driving for a company is taken very seriously and every aspect of potential employees is scrutinized heavily, for good reason.

What constitutes “negligent supervision”?

“Negligent supervision” is another way an employer can be held liable for car accidents caused by the employee. At minimum, there should be safety standards in place and enforced consistently with training seminars, staff meetings, and reminders to heed all company, state, and federal standards. It is mandatory by law that drivers comply with the safety and traffic laws in their state and any state lines they may cross while on the clock. As stated above, driving for a company should be taken very seriously, and every aspect of a potential hire should be thoroughly background checked before a decision s made. An employer who doesn’t bother with a background check, enforce regular drug testing, or whose hiring practices are rushed or not as thorough as they should be, and are found to be negligent, can be held liable for negligent supervision.

For truck drivers, there are also “logging requirements” enforced for trucking employers under the FMCSA standards that need be enforced for every trucking carrier in the country that transports cargo and/or is not considered an independent contractor. There are different rules and regulations governing independent contractors than for trucking carrier employees, and we discussed this in After a Trucking Accident, the Trucking Company May Be Liable, and Here’s Why!.

What is “vicarious liability”?

Vicarious Liability is a legal principle that implies the employer is not required to be found negligent of anything themselves to have litigation brought against them under the principles of the aforementioned employer liability. That’s because being “vicariously liable” is a theory of law that necessitates that the actions of an “agent” (in this case the employee hired to do a job with a duty of care) are nearly the same as the actions of the “principle” (the employer who did the hiring). When the “principle” instructs its “agents” to perform a task, it’s the same as if the “principle” (the employer) had performed the task themselves. In most cases, this is perfectly acceptable, as the employer has been thoroughly background checked and can perform their job with the highest duty of care possible. It only becomes a problem for the employer if they cut corners in the hiring process, allowing a less responsible employee to join the team.

It should be understood that this rule will only apply if the “agent” (the employee) is actually performing a task for the “principle” (the employer) at the time the accident, injury, or death occurs. A Board Certified lawyer will be able to determine whether this theory of law applies during the Discovery phase of a Personal Injury case and will choose to act on the client’s behalf based on the evidence they uncover during the process. Always be forthcoming, honest, and credible with the lawyer. In workplace accident claims (as well as any other Personal Injury case) it’s important to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Lying or exaggerating won’t help, and the lawyer may already know the truth from their years of experience. A credible client and a Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer can ensure that together, maximum compensation is obtained.

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