Under the legal doctrine of “respondeat superior,” an employer can, under limited circumstances, be held liable for injuries caused by a negligent employee. The doctrine only applies to negligent acts committed by employees acting in the “course and scope” of their job duties.
Personal injury attorneys will usually advise an injured plaintiff to bring a lawsuit against an employer for two reasons. First, it furthers the pursuit of justice by allowing the court to apportion liability to every party that played a role in causing a plaintiff’s injury. Second, the employer may have better insurance coverage and more assets than the negligent employee, allowing an injured person to be more fairly compensated for his or her injuries.
Vogt v. Herron Construction
In a recent case, the California Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether the doctrine applies when an employee runs over another worker while driving his own personal vehicle.
The case of Vogt v. Herron Construction centered around injuries Augustus Vogt sustained when he was hit by a truck driven by Jesus Cruz. Vogt and Cruz were both contractors working on the same job site. Cruz was employed by Herron Construction, while Vogt was employed by a different company.
Vogt was getting ready to pour concrete when he realized that Cruz’s truck was so close by that it might become damaged during the pour. Vogt asked Cruz to move his truck. In the process, Cruz accidentally ran over Vogt, causing injury.
Vogt sued Herron Construction, arguing that Cruz was acting in the course and scope of his job duties when he caused the car accident. However, Herron claimed that Cruz was acting only in a personal capacity. It noted that driving was not part of Cruz’s job duties and argued that the company should not be held liable for an accident caused by an employee who is moving his own vehicle in an attempt to protect it from damage.
Ultimately, the court sided with Vogt, reasoning that even though Cruz was not technically required by his employer to move his truck, construction projects require all contractors to work together to get the job done. If Cruz didn’t move his vehicle, Vogt couldn’t pour the concrete, causing the project to come to a halt. Thus, Cruz was acting in furtherance of his employment when he caused the accident.
The case was sent back to the superior court for a trial on the facts.
Source: Business Insurance, “Employer Liable for Accident Involving Employee’s Vehicle: Calif. Court,” Sheena Harrison, Nov. 4, 2011.