Car Accidents Involving Company Vehicles
I Caused an Automobile Accident in a Company Vehicle. What Do I Do Next?
The first thing you need to do is keep calm. The second thing you need to do is look at our post-accident checklist. (LINK TO POST ACCIDENT CHECKLIST). If you have just been in an accident, act like you would at any other accident. Call the authorities, get medical care, and do not admit fault.
Then you have to call your boss. It depends on where you work. I don’t know what will happen. You might get fired. You might not. Whatever you do, do not keep it a secret from your boss. That would be worse.
Respondeat Superior is a legal doctrine that makes an employer liable for an employee’s actions if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment. That means that if you cause an accident, while doing your job your company is on the hook for damages.
Imagine that Doug is driving a package delivery truck delivering packages for his employer, when he loses control of the vehicle. The vehicle skids down the street, and rolls down a hill where it crashes through Penny’s front door and into her dining room.
Doug is at fault for the accident, but Penny has a claim against Doug and against Doug’s employer for damages to fix her dining room wall.
Personal Business in the Company Car
The specifics of respondeat superior are complicated and have been hashed out over thousands of appellate court decisions, but it comes down to this. If you are doing your job your company is liable. If you are not doing your job, your company is most likely not liable.
Imagine that Doug manages to get control of his truck in the earlier scenario, and he does not crash into Penny’s dinning room. Instead, Doug finishes his shift, but does not return his truck. Instead he drives to his estranged in-laws house, breaks in, and steals $100,000.00 in sewing supplies and dress forms. He uses his package delivery truck as a getaway vehicle. In Doug’s haste to get away from his crazy mother in law, who is chasing him in a rusted-out army surplus tank, Doug rear-ends the car in front of him driven by Pedro causing property damage and injuries.
Is Doug’s employer liable? Probably not. We may have to look at Doug’s contract, and some company procedures. I told you it was complicated. However, in most cases, the robbery and the accident are Doug’s fault. Pedro does not have a claim against Doug’s employer.
Company Policy and Insurance Agreements Can Change Things
The doctrine of respondeat superior has been around for centuries. Companies have learned to adapt. When you agree to drive a company vehicle, or you agree to drive your own vehicle on company business – for example, you deliver sandwiches in your crappy purple Sion – always make sure you understand who is responsible for having insurance on the vehicle and what policies you must follow to protect yourself.