When an employee gets into a car accident, is their employer liable? This might be a question asked by employers, employees, and by other people involved in the accident. As with so many things, the answer depends. There are essentially two questions that determine whether the employer is liable.
Was the Employee at Fault?
This is the first question to ask. Was the accident the fault of the employee or the other driver? This is simple in some states, but can be more complicated in Florida. Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, which means that when a lawsuit happens, damages are limited by how much the driver is found to be at fault. Also, Florida is a no-fault insurance state, which means that you are covered by your own PIP regardless of who is at fault. This covers medical expenses, and you cannot sue for compensation for pain and suffering above that unless you can demonstrate a lasting injury. Now, this does mean that even if the court determines you are 90% responsible, you can bring a claim for the remaining 10%. It may not always be worth it. Pure comparative negligence is relatively rare, and it binds Florida courts and insurance claim adjusters.
Determining who was at fault can be a long and complicated process.
Was the Employee ‘on the Job’?
Note that whether the employer owns the vehicle is not considered. Your employer can still be liable for the accident even if you are driving their own personal vehicle. For example, the majority of pizza delivery drivers use their own car. In the case of delivery drivers and couriers, ‘on the job’ can be obvious. However, it can also apply to office workers who are picking up something for the office when on their lunch break and to people driving to an off site meeting. It does not apply to commuting. Establishing the exact boundaries of on the job can be challenging and is definitely a case where you need a good personal injury attorney.
In Florida there is also the doctrine of respondeat superior to consider, which is basically “Was the employer controlling the actions of the employee.” This means that the actions had to be part of the employee’s required performance, take place during the time and place of employment and/or involve service to the employer. So, for example, an employer asks their second shift receptionist to stop off at the bank and get quarters on the way to work. They then get into an accident. The employer is liable because the receptionist, although driving is not part of her job, is providing a service to the employer.
What Factors are Not Taken into Consideration
Some factors are not taken into consideration to determine whether you are on the job, even if you think they should be:
- Who owns the car. As mentioned, most delivery drivers drive their own car or ride their own motorcycle. About ten percent of truckers are owner operators or lease their vehicles, although in this case the company and the driver are often one and the same entity. However, there is some chance that an employer who owns the car may be liable even if the car is being used for personal errands, under Florida law. It is unlikely, however, that a court would pursue that, due to certain precedents.
- Whether the car is owned or leased. In general, the owner of a “dangerous instrument,” which includes a motor car, is liable for injuries. However, there is a specific exemption for long-term leases, where it is argued that the company only holds title, but has no meaningful control over the vehicle.
What About Independent Contractors?
This has come up particularly in the context of rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft. This is a complex legal issue, however, most Uber and Lyft drivers are not covered by their personal insurance. Both Uber and Lyft have policies that cover their drivers, and if you drive for either of these companies you should take advantage of this, as your personal insurer will not pay claims. You are covered any time you are logged into the app, with the amount going up after you pick up your fare. For other independent contractors, it likely depends on the specific contract. You should always make sure that you are covered, either by your employer’s insurance or your own. There is a real risk of your personal insurance refusing to pay. In this case you should absolutely contact an attorney to get things straightened out. Truck drivers generally have their own coverage, but the company they are contracted with may provide extra coverage as a perk of employment.
Am I Still at Risk of Being Sued Even if my Employer is Liable?
The answer is yes. It’s generally difficult to establish employer liability, especially if the case is not clear cut. Therefore, it is possible that you or your insurance company will be sued as well as your employer. You should talk to your lawyer about the best course of action. Your employer will generally have a higher level of liability coverage. However, if you were clearly not on the job, then your employer will not be able to help. Again, you should discuss this with your attorney. They will not suggest a strategy that is unlikely to work.
Can I Let the Insurers Sort It Out?
Sometimes, yes. In some cases the your insurer and the company insurer will come to an agreement as to who gets to pay up, or possibly split the damages between them. However, not only is it possible that you are uninsured, but you may discover your employer is as well. Any company which has people drive on the job should have a high level of liability insurance, but this is not always the case.
The bottom line is that if you get into an accident while driving on the job, things can be a little more complicated than normal. The other driver’s insurance company will likely talk to yours, but there is a higher risk of the incident ending up in court due to arguments about whether you were really on the job or even whether you are correctly classified as a contractor rather than an employee. Because of this, you are going to need a good personal injury attorney with experience dealing with these cases.
If you were injured while driving for your employer and are not sure whether you or they are liable, contact Rue & Ziffra today for a free initial consultation and to help you navigate the complexities of the case.