One of the perks of many jobs is the use of a company vehicle or car. For some positions, driving a company vehicle is a requirement. Some of the benefits include not paying for your gas, car insurance, or putting wear and tear on your personal vehicle. However, if you are driving, there is always a chance you will be involved in a car accident. What happens after an accident, whether it is a serious crash or a minor fender-bender, depends on many factors.
Determining Who Caused a Car Accident
The first thing to determine if you were in an accident in a company car is who was at fault for the crash. If another driver ignored a red light and collided with you, then you should be able to hold the other driver and their insurance company responsible for any injuries or damages. While your employer’s insurance provider could be involved, you should be free from any personal responsibility.
There are cases where you might be careless or make a mistake that results in a car accident that injuries another person. Then the question is whether you are personally responsible for the damages you caused or could your employer be held accountable. Most personal injury attorneys will want to file a claim against your employer because their insurance coverage is probably greater than yours. However, whether your employer could be held accountable for your negligence depends on numerous factors.
Vicarious Liability in Automobile Accidents
Under the legal doctrine of “vicarious liability,” an employer could be held responsible for the conduct of their employees who were acting under the scope of their employment. For example, if you deliver bread in the mornings and are involved in a rear-end collision with another vehicle while making a delivery, your employer could be held liable for any damages because the accident occurred while you were performing your job. The critical element is proving that driving was an essential part of the job duties. However, it does not have to be the primary purpose of your employment, such as a truck driver who delivers goods. If you worked for a company that repaired ATMs and were sent on a job to fix one and were involved in an accident driving to the site, your employer could be held accountable.
Not all activity in a vehicle is covered under vicarious liability. If you are traveling to and from work, then your employer will not be held responsible if you cause an accident.
Additionally, driving to a job is usually covered but not if you stop to run an errand on your way. For example, if you are a plumber and are driving to a job, your employer could be held liable for an accident. However, if you stop to pick up your dry cleaning on the way and are involved in an accident in the parking lot, you could be held accountable for any damage or injuries you caused.
There are two essential things to consider and clarify when using a company car. First, for vicarious liability to apply, your conduct must be in the scope of your employment and authorized by your employer. If you have any questions, such as if stopping for gas was an approved activity, you should be sure to discuss it with your employer or supervisor. Additionally, some companies will carry auto insurance that extends to its employees. Some do not. It is critical to confirm that your activities will be covered if you use a company vehicle.
Criminal Behavior in a Company Car
It is probably clear that if you use the company car to rob a bank and are involved in a car accident while fleeing the scene, your employee will not be held responsible for any damage. However, not every case is as clear cut. Driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the leading causes of accidents in the country. It is not uncommon for a salesperson to use a company car to take a prospective client to dinner. Under ordinary circumstances, an employee would be held liable for their salesperson’s conduct driving to and from the dinner. However, if the salesperson drank a couple of bottles of wine with the potential client and caused an accident on the way home, the employer would likely not be held accountable under vicarious liability. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal and not in the scope of anyone’s employment.
Using a Company Car for Personal Use
As stated above, vicarious liability does not usually apply if you are not engaging in a work-related activity. That means, if you have the privilege of taking a company car home in the evenings, you should not be using it to go food shopping, taking the kids to basketball practice, or taking a weekend getaway. Often referred to as a “frolic,” engaging in any personal activity opens you up to personal liability if you are involved in an accident. This includes personal activities during the hours of employment. Using a company car to grab a mid-morning breakfast sandwich is not typically considered part of your employment duties.
Who Determines Vicarious Liability?
If a car accident case does not settle between the parties involved in the crash, then determining whether vicarious liability applies will rest in the hands of a judge or jury. There could be questions as to whether you were engaging in a work-related activity or not. For example, what if your boss instructed you to go pick up lunch? The facts and evidence presented to the jury and judge will influence whether you or your employer could be held financially liable for any injuries or damages