by Scott Blumenshine
If your boss tells you to leave work early so you can take some packages to the post office on your way home, and you injure someone in a car crash, is your employer liable for the damages you caused? Yes, most likely your employer is liable for injuries caused by an employee using his or her personal vehicle for business purposes.
Suppose you are required to have a car as a condition of your employment. You travel from place to place, business site to business site. Is your employer liable if you have a car accident while driving your car for business purposes? Again, the answer is yes.
If you are really on the job when an accident occurs, your employer will likely be liable for damages you caused under a theory of vicarious liability. The question arises, were you really on the job at the time of the accident?
Respondeat superior is a Latin term which means “Let the superior answer.” It is usually referred to as vicarious liability and applies in situations when one person is liable for the damages caused by the negligence of another. It is the legal principle under which employers are responsible for negligent acts of their employees. This includes employers being responsible for car accidents caused by the negligence of employees at a time when employees are using their personal automobiles for business purposes.
The caveat is that an employee’s use of his or her personal automobile must have been within the scope of the employee’s employment at the time of the accident. It seems like a simple concept, but questions that are raised if you are involved in such an accident include:
The questions boil down to: Were you really “on the job” at the time of the accident?
If you agree to your employer’s request to take packages to the post office and have a car wreck on the way, you are most likely acting within the scope of employment since your employer is benefiting from your action of taking the business packages to the post office in your personal car. You are on the job. But, if you have dropped off the packages, stopped off for dinner and are then on your way home when you have an accident, driving home after dinner had no benefit to your employer so you were no longer “on the job” and your employer will not be liable.
This scenario is a little more difficult and depends on several factors. Your employer is almost never liable for an accident you may have on your way to and from work. But, if your job requires you to stop and inspect a job site, pick up supplies, make a sales call or any other business related activity, your employer will be liable if you negligently cause a car crash. But, what if you stop along the way to pick up your dry cleaning and have an accident either on your way to the dry cleaners or after you have left it? This is a scenario that has no easy answer. It will have insurers and personal injury lawyers working to sort through the facts and evaluate the circumstances and may require a trial in order to have a final answer.
Personal vehicle insurance policies may or may not insure car owners for business use of their vehicles with one exception referred to as the livery exception. This means there is no insurance coverage if you use your car to transport goods or people in exchange for money. This applies to using the car like a taxi or delivery van, not a simple business errand.
Employers may have coverage for employees who use their cars for business purposes, but it is not automatic. Check with your employer to be sure coverage is provided before agreeing to use your car for business purposes.
If you were the victim of a car accident that was caused by an employee acting on behalf of their employer, contact our car accident attorneys at Meyer & Blumenshine for a free consultation.