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Linking vicarious liability to car accidents

Imagine the following scenario: you are struck by another vehicle while driving on the streets of Bozeman. After speaking with the other driver (who clearly was at fault), you discover that he or she is in the process of making deliveries for an employer. Many have come us here at Cok Kinzler PLLP after having been in such accidents wondering who is ultimately liable: the driver or his or her employer? The answer may be both (depending on the circumstances).

The legal concept of “respondeat superior” (also known as vicarious liability) as shared by the Legal Information Institute follows the notion that if wrongful acts are committed by an employee while acting within this scope of his or her employment or agency, then his or her employer may be held legally responsible for such acts. To clarify this point, let us return to the scenario given at the outset of this post. Say you smell alcohol on the breath of the driver who struck you. You mention this to responding law enforcement officials, and they administer tests that indicate the driver was intoxicated. In this case, his or her employer may be absolved of liability given that consuming alcohol is likely not a task related to the individual’s employment.

If, however, the driver simply lost control of his or her vehicle while making deliveries, then the principle of respondeat superior may apply. He or she was actively engaged in work-related tasks, and thus within the scope of employment. This may still hold true even if the individual was exhibiting recklessness, such as speeding or failing to yield the right-of-way to other drivers.

More information on determining liability following a car accident can be found by continuing to explore our site. 

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