Are employers responsible for car wrecks caused by their employees?
Written By: Attorney Cassandra Pillonel
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The short answer is, maybe.
Under certain circumstances, Texas law imposes liability on employers for the negligent actions of their employees when those employees are acting within the course and scope of their employment. In such situations, an injured party can recover damages from that employer. Of course, courts have wrestled with how to determine whether an employee was acting within the scope of employment and consider a number of factors. This article answers some commonly asked questions you may have if you are injured in a car wreck caused by an employee.
If you have been involved in a car wreck, contact the Texas car accident lawyers of Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a free consultation. In the consultation, an attorney may listen to the details of the accident and help determine whether an employer may be liable. As our client, you will never owe us anything unless we are able to win your case. That is our No Fee Guarantee.
What if the employee is driving his/her own vehicle at the time of the car wreck?
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer can be liable for negligence caused by an employee even if the employee is driving his own vehicle if the employee was acting within the course and scope of his employment, or in accordance with his official duties at the time of the car wreck.
What does ‘course and scope of employment’ mean?
In determining whether an employee is acting within in the course and scope of their employment, courts must determine whether the act:
- Originates in the employer’s work, business, profession, or trade; and
- Furthers the employer’s business.
For example, if a deliveryman is on route to a customer’s home to deliver a washer and causes a car wreck, the company may be responsible for any injuries caused by the deliveryman’s negligence during the wreck. This standard is broad and includes a wide range of conduct deemed negligent by employees while working and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by an experienced attorney.
What if the employee was commuting to or from work?
Courts have recognized a general rule – an employee is not acting within the scope of employment while simply driving to and from work, and therefore an employer is generally not liable for the employee’s negligence in these instances.
What if the employee was running an errand at the time of the car wreck?
If an employee is running a personal errand – even during work hours or in a company vehicle – and causes a car wreck, the employer would likely not be held responsible because the employee was not acting within the course and scope of his employment.
In the legal realm, such personal errands may be considered “frolics.” A frolic occurs where an employee’s personal business is unrelated to their employment.
For example, if a deliveryman stopped at a pharmacy while on the way to a customer’s home to pick up medication for his spouse and caused a wreck after leaving the pharmacy, the employer would not be responsible for the car wreck because the deliveryman went on a frolic – a non-sanctioned activity.
However, an employer cannot escape liability if an employee performing some errand at the direction of his or her employer. For example, an employee going out to grab food during lunch is not considered work-related, but if the employee is also picking up food for the rest of the office at the direction of the employer, the lunchtime trip becomes an on-the-job driving whether the employee is using his personal or company vehicle.
What if an off-duty employee is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time of the car wreck?
An employer may be liable for off-duty conduct of an intoxicated employee who injures someone else while using an employer’s vehicle. In cases such as these, the employers must know or have a reason to know that the employee was under the influence, had control over the employee, and failed to act to prevent the employee from getting in a vehicle and injuring someone.
Learn More: What To Do If Injured By a Drunk Driver
What if the car wreck occurred because of a vehicle defect?
If an employee is driving an employer’s vehicle, employers are required to maintenance their vehicles regularly and ensure they are safe for employees to operate. When an employer fails to repair or maintain its vehicles, the employer will generally be liable for car wrecks directly caused by such defects.
What may I be able to recover if I am involved in a wreck with an employee?
Assuming the employee was driving within the course and scope of employment, you may be able to recover the following from the employer’s insurance company:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Out-of-pocket expenses
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At Zinda Law Group, our experienced car wreck attorneys have the knowledge and resources necessary to help you build the strongest case possible and to seek the compensation you may be entitled to.
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