Is the Employer of an At-Fault Driver Legally Liable for Your Auto Accident Injuries?
Virginia is a fault state for auto accidents. If you receive injuries in a Virginia accident, you can recover compensation from the driver whose negligence caused the accident. In some situations, you also may hold the employer of an at-fault driver legally liable for your auto accident injuries.
Legal Doctrine of Respondeat Superior
Virginia courts recognize a legal doctrine called respondeat superior, a Latin phrase that means “let the master answer.” Under the principle, an employer may be legally liable for acts of an employee.
The doctrine of respondeat superior applies in many different circumstances, including car accidents. However, Virginia court decisions set specific requirements that must be met for an employer to be held legally responsible for injuries caused by an employee.
When Can You Sue an Employer for Injuries Caused By an Employee?
To hold the employer of the at-fault driver legally liable for your auto accident injuries, you must establish three facts:
- An employer-employee relationship existed;
- The employee was conducting the employer’s business when the accident occurred; and
- The employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment.
The evidence must demonstrate all three conditions for the employer to be liable.
Under rules established in opinions of the Virginia Supreme Court, if an injured victim shows that the employer-employee relationship existed, the burden of proof shifts to the employer. To avoid liability, an employer usually attempts to demonstrate either that the employee was not conducting the employer’s business or the employee was not acting within the scope of employment.
Scope of Employer Liability
The rules about employer liability for actions of an employee apply to all employers. The employer can be a business or company, an individual, or even a government agency. However, liability of government agencies is subject to the specific laws discussed in a previous blog post, When Can You Sue the Government For a Personal Injury?
If the at-fault driver is on the job when an accident occurs, the employer likely will be responsible for injuries and property damage caused by the employee’s negligence. However, in the aftermath of an accident, sometimes the facts relating to employer liability are not clear.
Common Situations Involving Questions of Employer Liability
Circumstances in which an employer usually will not be liable for injuries caused by an employee include the following:
- The employee was on his or her way to or from work when the accident occurred.
- The employee was running personal errands on a break or taking a lunch hour when the accident occurred.
In these examples, if the facts demonstrate that the employee was not conducting the employer’s business, the employer is not legally liable for the employee’s negligence. If other facts show that the employee was conducting the employer’s business on the way to work or during a break or lunch hour, the employer may be legally responsible.
In any case where an injured victim establishes through evidence that the employee was performing tasks within his or her work responsibilities and fulfilling interests of the employer, the legal requirements for employer liability are met.
Demonstrating Employer Liability
The employer liability rules apply to all types of car accidents. The injured victim may be the driver of the other car, a passenger in the employee’s personal or company vehicle, or a pedestrian.
When an employee uses a vehicle to complete work duties, the employer usually will be liable. It does not matter if the employee is using a personal vehicle or a vehicle that belongs to the employer. However, when the employer owns the vehicle, it is more difficult for the employer to produce evidence that proves the employee was not acting within the scope of employment.
In any case involving employer liability, recovering compensation for the injured victim is more difficult and complex than in a case without employer liability issues. First, the victim needs to prove that the employee was negligent and caused the accident. Then, the injured individual also must demonstrate the three requirements for employer liability.
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident, and the employer of the at-fault driver may be legally liable, it is essential to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. Before you consider filing claims with the employee’s and employer’s insurance companies, get guidance from a knowledgeable accident lawyer. Doing so will greatly improve your chances of successfully recovering full compensation.
Talk With an Experienced Virginia Beach Car Accident Attorney Lawyer
If you received serious injuries in an accident, and another person may be at fault, Virginia Beach auto accident attorney Jeffrey Brooke is here to help. The Jeff Brooke Team always keeps your and your family’s best interests at heart and aggressively pursues your case to get the full compensation you deserve.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.