Every day there are thousands of company-owned vehicles on the road, as employees perform their duties for their employers. When car accidents involve work vehicles, those who suffer injuries or other damages may not know who is responsible when filing car accident claims. Normally, an employer is responsible for any at-fault accidents that occur when a company vehicle is being used; however, there are certain circumstances where this may not be the case. Insurance companies and personal injury lawyers must consider the different facts relating to the employer-employee relationship and how it affects liability in car accident claims.
When Employers Are Liable
The general rule of thumb concerning at-fault car accident claims involving company vehicles is that the employer is responsible based on the concept of vicarious liability, which assumes that the employee is acting on order of the employer. If found at fault for an accident, any liability lies with the employer.
Liability may also belong to the employer if they are found to be negligent in failing to prevent an accident by: not properly maintaining vehicles; hiring a driver with a poor driving record; or other ways that could be viewed as negligence. Employers have the responsibility to: properly train their employees and enforce the proper safety policies; only hire and retain employees who do not present a hazard to others; and to properly maintain all equipment employees use. This kind of employer negligence will also put liability in the hands of the employer.
When Employees Are Liable
Employers may not be liable in all car accident claims, despite the concept of vicarious liability and if no other negligence has been displayed by them. Employees are expected to operate company vehicles within the accepted scope of their employment, which means they are expected to behave and perform in certain ways while on the job. Personal injury lawyers point out that when employees do not behave according to what is expected of them, by failing to operate the company car according to employer rules and safety guidelines, they could be found liable for an at-fault accident.
So, even though employers are usually liable for an accident caused by an employee, if that employee acted outside the scope of his or her employment and caused an accident, the employer may not be held liable.
Who Pays for These Car Accident Claims?
When liability rests with the employer, the employer’s insurance company pays any at-fault car accident claims. When an employee is found liable because they have acted outside the scope of their employment, who pays becomes a big question for everyone involved, including insurance companies and personal injury lawyers. Insurance companies may initially pay a claim, then seek repayment from the negligent employee’s personal insurance company.
Personal injury lawyers may also file any car accident claims against the employer directly if the employer’s insurance company refuses to pay. The employer could also wind up being responsible for whatever portion of the claim that the negligent employee’s insurance company will not pay or if the employee does not carry personal auto insurance. Who pays these claims may differ depending on who is found liable and what insurance coverage is actually available.
When an at-fault driver is operating a company work vehicle, liability usually rests with the employer and the employer’s insurance company. If personal injury lawyers show that an employee acted outside the scope of their employment, the employee could then be found liable. Deciding who actually pays in these type of situations can become quite involved and may actually become a combination of the employee, employer, and both insurance companies making payment, depending on coverages and other details.
Those injured in accidents involving commercial vehicles should always work with experienced personal injury lawyers who understand the intricacies of these situations and how to obtain the fairest settlements!
Maurer Law, PLLC
505 West Riverside, Suite 400
Spokane WA 99201