When Can an Employer Be Liable for Employees’ Conduct?

August 18th, 2020 | by RON BELL

When Can an Employer Be Liable for Employees’ Conduct?

When a person causes an accident while carrying out his or her professional duties, more than one party may be held liable for the resulting injuries. Read our blog to learn why employers can be sued for the negligent actions of their employees even when the employer is not directly responsible for the accident.

Identifying who is liable for an accident victim’s injuries lies at the heart of every personal injury claim and lawsuit. While only one liable party will be recognized in some circumstances, multiple parties may share the degree of liability and owe the victim compensation in other personal injury situations. 

This is especially relevant in scenarios where the person directly responsible for the mishap for example, a car driver who caused a collision   doesn’t have enough insurance coverage to fully compensate the victim’s losses. In this case, identifying multiple liable parties may help the injured party cover all the expenses related to the accident.

One of the most common situations in which a third-party may be targeted by an injury claim for the negligent or reckless actions of another person relates to a legal concept called vicarious liability. Vicarious liability applies when an employer may be held liable for the conduct of his or her employees. In this blog, we will explain this concept in more detail and give examples of cases in which vicarious liability may apply.

Vicarious Liability and Respondeat Superior

In general terms, vicarious liability as opposed to direct liability simply means that a third party can be deemed responsible and held legally liable for the acts of another person or entity. For example, car owners may be vicariously liable for negligent or reckless driving of the person to whom they lent a car. Similarly, employers may be vicariously liable for accidents caused by their employees.

A legal principle that allows injury victims to file claims and lawsuits against the employer rather than the employee who caused an accident is known as respondeat superior (from Latin, “let the superior answer”). This doctrine can be explained as follows: If an employee causes injury due to personal carelessness or misconduct, any resulting financial losses should be viewed as an inherent risk of conducting business. Since employers exercise control over how their employees carry out their professional duties, they should also take all the needed and reasonable precautions to prevent conduct that may result in injuries to third persons.

A common scenario in which an employer may be held liable for the injurious acts of an employee relates to truck accidents. If a truck driver employed by a trucking company causes an accident, the victim may be able to file a claim against both the driver and the trucking company itself. 

At times, though, trucking companies may maintain that a negligent driver wasn’t, in fact, their employee but rather an independent contractor. In such situations, it is important to immediately consult an experienced attorney. He or she will help the victim establish whether or not there has been an employer-employee relationship between the truck driver and the trucking company, regardless of what the company maintains.

Frolic: A Caveat to Employer’s Liability

While there are many situations in which an injury victim will be able to claim an employer’s liability for the acts of one of the employees, certain circumstances may also preclude the victim from obtaining financial compensation. Generally speaking, such claims can only be made when employees were acting within the scope of their employment when they caused the accident.

The scope of employment has been defined as “the actions or activities an employee might reasonably undertake as part of his or her job.” For example, let’s suppose that an employer asks an employee to deliver certain goods or to drive to a certain place. In this situation, while driving a car, he or she will be carrying out his or her professional duties. Therefore, if he or she causes an accident, the victim may argue that the employee acted within the scope of his or her employment. As a result, an injury claim may be filed against the employer.

However, let’s suppose that the same employee decides to run a personal errand during his or her working hours. If he or she causes an accident while engaging in actions that may be considered outside of the scope of his or her employment, the employer will not be held liable for the injuries that resulted from the employee’s negligence. The employee’s action will be considered a frolic an activity completely unrelated to his or her work duties. 

Talk to a Lawyer to Find Out Which Rules of Liability Apply to You

In this article, we have provided an overview of situations in which an employer may or may not be held liable for the conduct of one of his or her employees. Yet, real-life circumstances may be much more complex than the theoretical scenarios presented here. In addition, in case of a lawsuit alleging vicarious liability, the company or person deemed at fault will likely try to actively evade any potential financial responsibility for the injuries. 

Therefore, accident victims injured by negligent employees are encouraged to consult an experienced attorney before undertaking any legal action in relation to vicarious liability claims to maximize their chances for success.

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