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Employer liability and how it relates to car accidents

Far too many New Yorkers are injured in car accidents that leave them with serious injuries. When this happens, a victim may wonder who he or she can sue in order to recover compensation. While the driver of the errant vehicle is an obvious possibility, a victim may also be able to sue the driver’s employer under the respondeat superior doctrine.

What is respondeat superior? It is a legal doctrine that says an employer may be responsible for the actions of an employee. Therefore, when an employer hires an employee to drive a company vehicle, for delivery services, for example, it must be held responsible for that employee’s actions while behind the wheel. It would otherwise be unfair to say that the employee works for the employer when he or she does a good job but not when he or she causes an accident. Thus, when an employee causes an accident while on the job, his or her employer may be held liable without proof of negligence on the employer’s part.

However, the respondeat superior doctrine has its limitations. For example, employees are not considered working while driving to and from work. So if an accident occurs while an employee is driving to work, a victim cannot sue the errant driver’s employer. Also, employers cannot be held liable through respondeat superior if an employee is engaging in frolic or detour. In essence, this means that if an employee was acting in his or her own self-interests, rather than his or her employer’s, at the time of the accident, then the employer cannot be held liable. For example, if a delivery truck driver detours from his route to the other side of town to visit a friend and causes an accident, his employer will probably not be held liable because the employee was doing something that was not part of his job.

Respondeat superior highlights one of the many complexities that can arise in a car accident personal injury lawsuit. To better understand one’s specific situation, it may be beneficial to speak with an experienced New York attorney.

Source: Hofstra Law, “Understanding Respondeat Superior,” Daniel J.H. Greenwood, accessed on Aug. 4, 2014