Holding Employers Accountable for their Employees’ Actions: Respondeat Superior
Imagine you are driving down the road, and you are suddenly rear ended by a large van. Your car is a wreck, and you suffered serious whiplash and a broken nose as a result of the collision. The accident clearly was not your fault. But who is responsible for the damage to your car, your medical bills, and your pain and suffering? The obvious answer would be that the driver of the van is responsible. If that van was painted with the logo of a national corporation, would that make any difference? In many cases, it would.
Under theories of vicarious liability, such as "respondeat superior," employers have a special relationship with their employees. Employers benefit from the work that their workers engage in, but the employer canl also be held responsible when the employee causes damage or harm to others. If the damage occurred during the course of the employee's work related duties, then the employer can be found liable for the injured person's damages.
In the example we started with, if the van was a vehicle that belonged to a carpet cleaning company, and the driver was driving to a location where he was meant to clean the carpet when the accident occurred, then there is a good chance that the damage done and injuries caused would likely be attributed to the employer. While the employer might see this as decidedly unfair, the law aims to provide protection to the innocent driver who was injured as a result of the other driver's negligence. Often the best way to provide compensation to the injured person is to go after the assets of the employer, which are likely to be far greater than those of the employee who caused the accident.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. If an employee who was out in the course of his job decided to take the afternoon off to meet his girlfriend at the mall, and the accident occurred while he was on his way to meet her, the employer would argue that the company does not bear responsibility for the employee's actions. This is because when employees "detour" from their job related activities, the employer may no longer be considered responsible for what the employee is doing.
Special circumstances also arise when the employee injures a co-employee. Consider that in the above example, a co-employee of the driver of the vehicle is injured in the accident. In such a situation, he or she would not be able to sue the employer under the theory of negligence, but may be eligible to pursue workers' compensation benefits. However, workers can sue their employers for other types of behavior, such as harassment, wrongful termination, or discrimination.
If you were injured in any type of accident caused by negligence, contact our attorneys at Montlick & Associates to learn about your legal rights as well as what steps are necessary to protect those rights.
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