Employer Liability for an Accident Involving Company or Fleet Vehicles

Fault in an accident is usually found with a negligent driver. But there are circumstances under which liability is more complex. This may be the case when an accident involves a vehicle that’s part of a company’s fleet of company trucks, cars, etc. Employers may be liable for their drivers’ actions in these cases.

What is a company fleet or vehicle? 

A fleet is a group of vehicles owned by a company and used for business purposes: 

  • minivans;
  • SUVs;
  • passenger cars;
  • pickups;
  • specialty vans; and
  • small trucks.

This can include company cars used by employees to run errands or meet with clients. Other examples of businesses that use fleet vehicles range from taxicabs and public buses to car rental companies and delivery companies.

Who may be liable when an accident involves a fleet vehicle? 

It makes sense that a driver who acts carelessly or recklessly behind the wheel would be responsible for an accident that causes injuries. Yet if it was an employee using a company car, respondeat superior or vicarious liability may apply.

What this means is that the employer is usually responsible for the actions of its employees. Of course, that’s assuming it occurred during the scope of employment, meaning the employee was performing work-related tasks at the time of the accident. This includes driving for work purposes.

If the driver is using a fleet vehicle for personal reasons, then it may be hard to hold an employer liable. For instance, let’s say the employee was allowed to take the vehicle home overnight. Before leaving for work the next morning, he/she runs to a bakery for breakfast and is involved in a collision. In this case, most likely the driver (and not the employer) would be liable.

Are there other circumstances under which an employer can be liable for an accident involving a company vehicle? 

In addition to vicarious employer liability for actions of employee, there could be circumstances under which an employer is directly negligent and liable for an accident. This may include failing to maintain the vehicle or employing someone with a poor driving history.

Let’s say the accident happened because the brakes on the company vehicle failed. An investigation discovers they the brakes had not been inspected according to the manufacturer’s suggestions. In this case, the employer may be liable for the malfunctioning brakes.

Who is responsible for covering damages in an accident involving a company vehicle? 

New York’s no-fault insurance system would require the injured person to file a claim with his/her own insurance company under personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. In fact, this would apply to an accident where either the employee or employer is liable. However, individuals who sustain serious injuries may file lawsuits against the liable party, usually the driver or employer.

Serious injuries may include: 

  • disfigurement (like loss of a limb);
  • long-term disability (like a back injury that will take months to heal); and permanent disability (like paralysis).

An injured driver may also file a lawsuit against the at-fault party if PIP does not cover certain economic losses or the economic loss is greater than PIP coverage limits.

There can be complications that arise in these types of cases. When the injuries are serious, it’s beneficial to seek legal advice. Call an attorney at Gacovino, Lake & Associates if you have questions about employer liability for an auto accident or need help pursuing compensation. Set up your appointment today by contacting us online or calling 800-550-0000.

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