When a Car Accident Occurs with a Driver ‘On the Job’—Who’s Liable?

by Stephanie Andre | Last Updated: September 11, 2020

A typical car accident involves two drivers driving their own vehicles for their own purposes. Sometimes, though, one of the vehicles is driven by an employee whose job it is to drive for the company that hired him/her. In that case, is the employee or the employer liable for damages?

In Most Cases, the Employer Will Be Held Liable for Damages

States have varying laws when it comes to liability, which is why it’s always wise to talk to your personal injury attorney for advice. In general, though, employers are usually at least partially liable for accidents caused by their employees behind the wheel.

This falls under the theory “respondeat superior,” which is a Latin phrase that means, “Let the superior answer.” It means that in most cases, an employer is responsible for the negligent actions of their employees.

There can be exceptions. If the employee was using his or her automobile at the time of the accident—delivering pizza in his or her own car, for example—questions may be raised that affect liability. These may include the following:

  • Was the employee acting within the scope of employment? In other words, at the time of the accident, was the delivery driver delivering pizza, or just going to the grocery store? If the former applies, the employer will likely be liable for the damages.
  • Did the employer benefit from the employee’s action? Maybe the employee doesn’t usually drive for the employer, but in this case, he was driving somewhere at the request of his boss. Maybe the boss asked the employee to run an errand, drive to another place of business, or drop off a package. In these cases, the employer would likely be liable for damages incurred because of an accident.
  • Was the plaintiff commuting? If the employee was simply driving to work at the time of the accident, the employer will probably not be held liable for any damages.

Exceptions to the Rule in Employee Car Accidents

If you were in an accident and you believe the other driver was “on the job” at the time, you may be concerned about proving it. In most cases, you can simply send notice of the accident to the driver’s insurance company and the employer’s business insurance company as well. Then the insurance companies will determine which of them will shoulder most of the costs.

Sometimes, the situation is more complicated. Maybe the driver’s insurance won’t cover the full scope of your injuries, or the driver’s insurance policy doesn’t insure him or her for business use of the vehicle. In these cases, you’ll want to pursue the employer for compensation, which may be difficult depending on how the employer responds.

Other times, it may not be clear whether the employee was actually on the job at the time of the accident. Perhaps the employee was commuting, for example, but stopped to pick something up for the office on the way. In these cases, a personal injury lawyer can help you sort things out.