When your involved in a vehicle accident involving a commercial truck, it’s not always easy to figure out whether the driver’s company or the driver themselves are liable. Here are some key things to consider when answering the liability question.

When is a Company Liable for Its Driver’s Conduct?

Respondeat superior, meaning “let the superior make answer” is the primary theory of liability that holds a company responsible for a traffic accident caused by a driver employee. 

The policy governing this rule is a realization that, practically speaking, certain wrongful conduct is bound to occur during the course of the employer’s business. As a result, the losses caused by this wrongful conduct should be placed on the employer as a cost of doing business. Another rationale for respondeat superior is that businesses generally have “deep pockets”, when compared to its employees, and are better able to protect themselves by purchasing insurance, spreading the cost over the entire business.

Is the Driver an Employee or Independent Contractor?

The first thing the injured person must show is that the driver is an employee of the company, rather than an independent contractor. That’s because a company is generally not liable for wrongful acts committed by independent contractors.

Although each state’s laws may differ, generally the emphasis is placed on whether the employer has the right to control the detailed manner and means that the work must be performed. If the employer controls the result of the work, but not how the result is accomplished, then an independent contractor relationship is established.

What Acts are “Within The Scope Of Employment”?

Determining what constitutes an act committed “within the scope of employment” can be a difficult task. Courts have adopted a number of factors to help resolve this issue. Although each state’s laws may differ, common factors can include:

For example, if a driver rear ends a car while making a delivery, the employer would be liable for any harm that results because the truck driver was acting “within the scope of employment”. 

What If the Driver’s Acts Were Intentional?

Generally, an employer is not liable for the intentional torts (i.e., assault, battery, kidnapping) committed by its employee. The rationale is that the purpose of the “respondeat” principle is not being met when the employee’s acts are not related to the business enterprise.

The Law Offices of Dussault & Zatir