When Is an Employer Liable for the Acts of an Employee?

by Eric Chaffin | Last Updated: April 25, 2021

You are driving home after a long day at work. After stopping at a red light, you proceed through the intersection when the light turns green. Without warning, another vehicle T-bones you when you enter the intersection. When you come to your senses, you realize you are the victim of a negligent driver.

That is when you notice the company logo on the side of the car that hits you.

You clearly have the right to bring a lawsuit against the responsible driver. But what about their employer? If the other driver was on the clock when they struck your vehicle, you might have a claim for monetary compensation from both the driver and their employer. A Pittsburgh auto accident lawyer could help you pursue that claim.

The doctrine of respondeat superior

The legal theory that allows you to seek damages from a negligent person’s employer is known as respondeat superior. This doctrine does not mean that an employer is responsible for every bad act their employee ever commits.

The most important factor in these claims is whether or not the worker is acting within the scope of their employment. This involves more than just being on the clock at the time the accident occurs. Operating within the scope of their employment requires that the employee was performing a task directly related to their job.

There are other cases where a worker might not be working within the scope of their employment, even when they are on the clock. If the driver made a detour to run a personal errand while in a company car, the injured motorist might not be able to hold their employer accountable.

This concept also applies at the workplace. If an employee injures someone while on a break or during horseplay, their employer might not be financially responsible. This is true even if they are on the clock.

Examples of successful respondeat superior claims

Examples can be helpful in understanding the concept of respondeat superior. Consider the example in the opening paragraph: a driver is struck by another car that entered the intersection illegally. The at-fault driver’s vehicle belonged to his employer. That fact alone does not guarantee that the employer could be held responsible.

If the employee was a delivery driver on the way to drop off items as part of their daily routine at work, it is easy to make the case that they were within the scope of their employment. That case gets much tougher to make if the driver was headed home from work or was taking a break from deliveries to run a personal errand. An experienced attorney could advise you on whether this legal doctrine could apply in your case.

Negligent hiring

Another situation in which the employer could be on the hook for the actions of their employee is through negligent hiring. Employers owe a duty to hire employees with the necessary skills to do the job. If their hiring decisions are so bad they could be considered negligent, an injury victim could hold them responsible. This is a high standard, as an unexpectedly bad hire will not qualify.

For a hire to be negligent, the employer must have been on notice that the prospective employee was entirely unqualified or otherwise dangerous. Examples could include hiring a commercial driver without the appropriate license.

Let Chaffin Luhana help

At Chaffin Luhana, we strive to maximize our client’s monetary compensation after every accident. Trust in our track record: Our attorneys have recovered more than $1 billion on behalf of their clients. To learn how we can help, schedule a free consultation as soon as possible.