In cases where a car accident involves a company vehicle driven by an employer, there are two primary ways an employer could be held liable. One is direct negligence on the part of the employer, and the other is vicarious liability.
Direct employer negligence would be things like failure to properly supervise the employee to ensure compliance with all safety laws, or negligent hiring by failing to use due diligence to ensure the worker is a safe driver. Vicarious liability, meanwhile, doesn’t necessarily require the company was negligent in any way, but holds that by virtue of the relationship between employer and employee, the company can be held responsible for the worker’s actions.
New York has fairly broad laws regarding vicarious liability, so plaintiffs have a good chance of making a strong case when struck by a commercial vehicle or by someone who was working at the time of a crash. However, our Manhattan car accident injury attorneys recognize there are going to be exceptions. For example, the company might argue it is not liable if the worker was off-duty or engaged in a non-work-related task, even if the worker was driving a company vehicle. The success of that argument will depend on the facts of the case.
In some instances, employers have successfully raised the argument that they should not be responsible for intentional torts carried out by workers. A perfect example of this recently played out in Travelers Property Casualty Co. v. Moore, et al., before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which covers Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
In this case, an employer was sued by an injured tow truck driver and the widow of his co-worker after the pair was chased and shot by a man, irate that his vehicle was being repossessed. The man reportedly used his work van to chase the workers and fired shotgun rounds from the window of the vehicle.
The gunman was later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. In the subsequent civil case, the plaintiffs did not argue the employer was directly liable, but instead argued the company should be held vicariously liable because the worker had permission to drive the work van, and the gunfire was “an accident” because the gunman hadn’t intended to shoot the pair (the gun went off when he hit a bump in the road, though there was no question he was responsible, as his finger was on the trigger at the time).
The district court granted partial summary judgment to the defense, finding the employee had permission to use the van at the time of the incident, and was thus covered under the employer’s insurance policy. At a bench trial, the judge ruled the death an “accident” because the outcome was neither “expected” nor “intended.”
The employer’s insurer appealed.
The appellate court first weighed the issue of whether the worker had permission to drive the vehicle, which would dictate whether the worker was insured by the employer at the time of the incident. There was no question the worker was off-the-clock. Additionally, a written policy within the company forbade use of company vehicles for non-work purposes. Evidence was presented that the company occasionally let this slide without consequence.
However, the defense argued the worker did not have permission to operate the vehicle for the purpose in which it was used that day. The court agreed, meaning the worker was not covered and the question of whether the shooting was an “accident” under the terms of the policy was moot.
Because so many people drive for a living, it’s extremely common for motor vehicle accidents to involve at least one person who is on-the-job at the time. Although the plaintiffs in this case did not prevail, it’s an issue worth exploring at the outset of the case.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Travelers Property Casualty Co. v. Moore, et al., Aug. 14, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Gorenkoff v. Nagar – New York Taxi Cab Lawsuit Will Go to Trial, Aug. 20, 2014, Manhattan Car Accident Lawyer Blog