In most situations, when you cause a car accident, you're considered to be at fault and liable for damages. But what happens if you're in an accident while working your job? The rules can get a little complicated, but often, you won't be the person held solely responsible. Here are some common questions answered to let you know who pays when you're in a car accident at work.
What is respondeat superior?
This is a legal doctrine that says a principal (your boss) is legally responsible for the actions of an agent (you, the employee) when the agent is acting within the scope of his or her work duties.
The logical assumption is that an employer will have to pay for damages if an employee is involved in a car accident while at work or on the clock. But there are always exceptions in these situations, and most of those exceptions are focused on the last part of the above paragraph: "when the agent is acting within the scope of his or her work duties."
It's important to understand when employees and employers are held accountable.
When are employers at fault?
Employer negligence. If employers require staff to drive while on the clock, they have a duty to ensure their employees hold a valid driver's license and that they know how to drive safely. For instance, if an employer hires a courier and doesn't complete a background check, they could be held negligent if the driver gets in an accident, and it's later learned the employee's license had been suspended for drunk driving.
Negligent supervision. Similar to the above, employers have a duty to properly supervise their employees and make sure they are adhering to safety laws regarding driving and transportation. For example, if a truck driver violates laws concerning cargo loading, and the employer failed to run routine quality control checks, they could be held liable if an accident occurs due to the improper loading.
Vicarious liability. Simply put, vicarious liability says that the actions of the employee equate to the actions of the employer, so long as you are acting within the scope of what's expected of you. For instance, suppose your boss asks you to go to the office supply store to get more copier paper. If you cause an accident on the way there or back, your employer can be held liable.
When are employees at fault?
There are a few situations in which you and only you can be held liable if you cause an accident while on the job. Suppose in the above example, after leaving the office supply store, you decide to take a different route back to work so you can stop at your favorite coffee shop. You get in an accident that's your fault. What happens?
Respondeat superior does not apply since your boss didn't ask you to get coffee. You were essentially on a personal errand. Therefore, you will be held liable; not your boss.
Can you get worker's compensation?
You are eligible to receive worker's compensation if you're in an accident while on the clock, so long as respondeat superior applies. If you were running personal errands when the accident occurred, even if you were "on the clock," you are not eligible for worker's compensation.
What if the accident was your fault? You can still apply for worker's comp whether you caused the accident or not.
What about driving to and from work?
If you're in an accident while commuting to and from work, your employer cannot be held liable. The only exception to that is if you're required to commute somewhere different, such as a business convention or a special errand before arriving to work. Another exception would be commuting from a hotel to a work meeting or event while out of town on a business trip.
What if the accident was caused by the other driver?
If the fault lies with the other driver, you have the right to sue them for damages and injuries that arise from the accident. You can also seek worker's compensation.
If you've been in an accident while at work, it's important to consult with an attorney who can help you with your case and let you know what you're entitled to receive. For more information, contact companies like Daniels Long & Pinsel.