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When is an Employer Liable for Employee Accidents or Misconduct?

Thursday, December 14, 2017By Nina Shapirshteyn

It’s always been your dream to open a small, family-owned bakery. You’ve finally saved up the money to do it and you’re overwhelmed with orders. So you decide to hire a delivery driver to help you deliver to customers. One day, the driver calls you, panicked, and tells you he’s been in an accident with the company truck. Your stomach drops - will this be the undoing of your whole business? Will you be held responsible for your employee’s actions? Like many legal issues, the answer to these questions is, it depends.

Employers can be held liable for their employees acts under a legal theory known as “respondeat superior” which is Latin for “let the superior answer.” There are some limitations on this rule and employers are not responsible for all of their employees’ acts. The general rule is that the employee must be acting within the course and scope of employment for an employer to be held liable.

If an employee causes an accident or injury while doing his or her job, acting on the employer’s behalf, or carrying out company business, then the employer will usually be held liable. This rule holds employers responsible for employee carelessness and misconduct as a cost of business. It also encourages employers to make careful hiring decisions and to be vigilant about who they choose to represent their company.

If an employee is carrying out personal business or acting out of personal motives when an accident occurs, the employer might not be held liable. For example, if a pizza delivery driver has finished his shift and decides to run personal errands with the company car and causes an accident, the employer can argue that the employee was acting independently. If the employee was not acting at the employer’s direction then there are good arguments that the employee should be held personally responsible for his actions. But if the accident or injury in any way stemmed in any way from directives or actions of the employer, the employer will likely be held liable.

Under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior, whether or not the employer knew that the employee might cause harm is irrelevant. A victim does not need to show that the employer did anything wrong. Simply by virtue of employing a person who committed harm while on the job is usually sufficient to establish employer liability.

If an employee harms another employee while on the job, this is generally covered under workers’ compensation. The injured employee can make a workers’ compensation claim for lost wages, medical bills, and any other qualifying expenses. If workers’ compensation covers the injury, the employee likely cannot sue the employer for the same injury unless it stemmed from an employer’s intentional misconduct.

If you or a member of your family has been severely injured or killed because of the negligence of someone else, contact Alexander Law Group, LLC. Our exceptional personal injury lawyers will be sure you get the maximum compensation possible. Call 888.777.1776, or contact us online.

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