Another legal doctrine, respondeat superior, obligates an employer to pay damages for the negligence committed by employees while the employee is working within the course and scope of employment. However, there could be exceptions to this doctrine depending on the specific facts of a case. Employers generally do not owe a duty to indemnify an employee if the employee is not working at the time of the incident. In this situation, proving an employer negligently entrusted a vehicle may also hold a company liable for an employee’s negligence even if an employee was not working at the time of the crash.
Negligent entrustment simply means that an employer was careless when allowing an employee to operate a company-owned or leased vehicle. The logic supporting the negligent entrustment is simple: an employer owes a duty to the public to allow only qualified individuals to use its equipment. To prove negligent entrustment, the claimant has an obligation to show that the employer has “actual knowledge” that an employee was “incompetent or habitually reckless.” Also, Georgia law requires that there be a causal link between the company’s negligence and the worker’s negligence that led to the victim’s injuries.
Proving actual knowledge on the part of the employer can be extremely difficult. Consequently, Georgia law adapted to allow the plaintiff to also rely on circumstantial evidence, evidence that relies on an inference to connect to a conclusion contrary to direct evidence, to prove the employer’s actual knowledge that an employee was incapable of using a company vehicle safely. Circumstantial evidence can be just as compelling as direct evidence if properly presented. For example, a compelling case can be made that an employee is a habitually reckless driver when an employer obtains the employee’s driving history and learns the employee has been arrested three times previously for a DUI or has a compelling, poor driving record. It is not a huge leap to argue that the employer should have known the employee could be under the influence or is a reckless driver when driving a company vehicle based on this knowledge.