If you are injured in a car accident, the law allows you to recover against the driver or person that caused the accident and your injuries. However, many times the person at fault does not have enough insurance to cover your medical bills and pain and suffering. For most accidents, the injured driver or passenger is out of luck. The at-fault driver’s insurance limits are the most they can recover. But where the at-fault driver was driving in the course and scope of his or her employment, the injured person may be able to recover against the employer as well.
An employer is responsible for its employee’s driving when they are “vicariously liable” for them. The law often refers to this as respondeat superior. Under this theory of recovery, the principal (or employer) is responsible for whatever negligent acts the agent (or employee) makes. In the context of car accidents, this occurs in 2 primary situations—when the employee’s work is driving and when the employee is driving for a work purpose. The distinction is subtle, but can be divided into the employer’s responsibility for its professional drivers and the employer’s responsibility for other employees who do not driving for a living.
An employer is responsible for its employee’s driving when that employee drives as their job. Over 85% of Americans commute to work in their cars. But a professional driver, drives for work. Examples of professional drivers are bus drivers, truckers, limousine drivers, or rideshare drivers. In the event of a crash, the bus company, trucking company, or limousine service could be held liable for their driver’s negligence. For now, rideshare drivers are not employees of companies like Uber or Lyft, but independent contractors instead. However, they do carry with them a significant amount of liability insurance paid for by those rideshare companies. That means Uber and Lyft aren’t vicariously liable for the driver, but the drivers themselves have more insurance than they typically would when not driving for a rideshare service.
For professional drivers, injured people can also recover from the employer directly. One example of this is where the injured person claims the employer negligently hired, trained, supervised, or retained the employee driver. If a truck driver had an extensive list of accidents or traffic citations prior to being hired by the employer or prior to the accident involving the injured plaintiff, the employer could be held liable for negligent hiring or retention. If the employer themselves failed to ensure that their driver received the proper training or supervision required to drive their specific vehicle professionally, the employer could be held directly liable for that as well.
Otherwise driving in the course and scope of employment
Georgia law also holds an employer vicariously liable for its employees where they were acting in the “course and scope of employment”—even if they are not professional drivers. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently heard the appeal of a wrongful death case where someone died as a result of a negligent driver driving through Georgia from Mississippi—where he was assigned for work. The purpose of the employee’s trip was to attend a DUI court proceeding. His license had been previously suspended. The deceased person’s family argued the negligent driver’s employer should be held responsible for its employee’s driving since he was driving home from work. The Court of Appeals held that since the employee requested and received permission to take unpaid leave from work on the date of the accident and was not compensated for his mileage, he was not in the course and scope of his employment or “engaged in the employer’s business.” Instead, he was engaged in the purely personal matter of driving somewhere unrelated to his job.
Whether someone is acting in the course and scope of their employment can be a complex and fact-intensive determination. If the facts in the case mentioned above had been slightly different, the outcome may have changed. For example, had the employee been reimbursed for the mileage on the drive where the accident occurred or asked to return to Georgia to perform work at a different job site, the Court would have likely held his employer vicariously liable for his on-the-job accident.
If you are involved in an accident with a truck or commercial vehicle, it is important that you speak with a lawyer familiar with the issues that arise when holding an employer responsible for an employee’s negligent driving. Otherwise, you may limit your recovery to an amount far less than what is actually available to you. The truck accident lawyers at Rafi Law Firm are familiar with these issues and can make sure you know about all your potential avenues for recovery. Call 404-800-9933 for a free consultation with an attorney about your case or click here for a free case evaluation.