Whenever an accident is caused by a driver who is “on the clock,” there is always the potential issue of employer liability under a legal doctrine called respondeat superior. Respondeat superior is an old Latin term that translates to “let the master answer,” and it has been applied by courts across the country to hold employers responsible for the negligent actions of their employees in some circumstances.
Of course, not every accident involving an employee can be attributed to their employer. Several criteria must be met in order for the doctrine to apply. Generally speaking, the accident must have occurred while the employee was performing a work-related task. Also, the doctrine will only apply to true employees rather than independent contractors. A recent case illustrates the difficulty in determining whether conduct is within an employee’s scope of employment.
Fountain v. Karim: An Employee Causes an Accident in the Employer’s Vehicle
Karim worked for the federal government. Since he was assigned to a remote location, he was provided with a vehicle to use while he was at the remote office. However, Karim would generally use his own vehicle to get to and from the remote office. Karim was prohibited from using the work vehicle for personal use unless he had his supervisor’s written permission. However, several times in the past, Karim had obtained verbal authorization from his supervisor before using the car and then obtained formal written consent upon his safe return.