Jury Awards $15 Million Against Company That Furnished Car to Employee with 15 Speeding Tickets
Habitual speeders pose a serious risk of harm to everyone else who travels the roadways of Georgia. When a driver speeds, the risk of a collision occurring and the potential severity of the collision both increase. When businesses hire employees who are furnished with company cars, they cannot simply turn a blind eye to a potential employee's driving record. Even if the employee is not engaged in the scope and course of employment, the employer can still be liable for negligent entrustment of a vehicle based on an employee's driving record. The liability of the employer in this situation can be especially important when the employee is uninsured or carries insufficient insurance coverage to compensate an accident victim for his or her damages.
By way of example, a Fulton County jury awarded $15 million in a civil lawsuit involving a collision that resulted in catastrophic injuries and wrongful death involving multiple vehicle occupants. Kaleo Hewlett and four other vehicle occupants were traveling in a Kia sedan following an Atlanta wedding. Hewlett, who was the best man at the wedding, was riding in the back seat with two of the bridesmaids on the way to the reception following the wedding. The driver of the Kia slowed to about fifteen mph as it approached a traffic signal. A Ford Five Hundred driven by Richard Brown slammed into the rear of the Kia at a speed of seventy mph, which was verified by the black box in Brown's vehicle. The black box also provided data indicating that Brown sped up seconds before the collision.
The force of impact from the collision was so extensive that it pushed the Kia a hundred feet from the point of impact. The trunk of the Kia was compressed into the passenger compartment so that all three back seat occupants suffered catastrophic injuries. Hewlett suffered a dislocated neck and transected spinal cord, which is also referred to as a "hangman's fracture". He died at the scene of the accident.
Brown's employer was named as a defendant in the lawsuit because he was driving a company car at the time of the accident. Brown was driving back from the gym after a workout when he collided with the other vehicle. Brown's employer contended that it could not be held vicariously liable for Brown's negligence because he was not engaged in the course or scope of employment when the collision occurred.
However, Hewlett's parents argued that the employer was liable for "negligent entrustment" of the vehicle to Brown. Evidence produced at trial revealed that Brown had 15 prior speeding tickets. Following the accident, Brown was charged with not observing a safe following distance, speeding, running a red light, serious injury by vehicle and vehicular homicide. He pled guilty in the criminal case and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, $1,000 fine and ten years of probation.
The jury rejected the employer's claim that it was not liable because Brown was off-duty and using the vehicle solely for personal purposes when the collision occurred. The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $15,263,000 for the plaintiff and specifically found that the actions of both Brown and his employer constituted "conscious indifference to consequences", which justified awarding punitive damages.
When an employee causes a car accident, the employer will frequently have more insurance and/or assets to satisfy a judgment. Our Fulton County personal injury attorneys carefully examine potentially applicable theories of liability against a negligent driver's employer. These theories may include but are not limited to respondeat superior, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, negligent retention and negligent entrustment. While the legal theory of respondeat superior permits imputing the negligence of the employee to the employer, the other legal theories hold an employer financially responsible for its own negligence.
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If you or your loved one is injured or a family member dies in a traffic accident involving an employee, our experienced Atlanta traffic accident injury lawyers might be able to help. Montlick and Associates has been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.