In California, depending on the circumstances of your personal injury lawsuit, you may be able to sue both the employer and employee that caused your injuries. What initially seems like a simple personal injury case against the at fault employee driver may actually involve employer liability if the employee caused your injuries during the scope of his or her employment.
Suppose that you are injured in a car accident by a drunk driver. You file a lawsuit against the defendant-driver. Further investigation reveals that the driver was actually drunk driving between their two offices to get to a meeting with his boss. These circumstances seem to indicate that the employee-driver injured you during the normal course and scope of his employment, potentially making his employer also liable for your injuries.
How does employer liability work in California? Liability may attach to the employer in a personal injury lawsuit through two related theories: 1) vicarious liability, and 2) negligent entrustment/supervision.
Vicarious liability (sometimes referred to as respondeat superior) is a theory under which employers are held accountable for their employee’s negligent or reckless conduct as long as the employee was acting within the course and scope of the employment. California Civil Jury Instruction 3701 describes the fundamentals of vicarious liability.
Employers can be held liable for the harm caused by an employee if said employee: a) actually caused harm to the plaintiff, and b) the employee caused such harm during the course and scope of their employment.
The standard for vicarious liability is one of “strict liability.” An employer can be held liable even if they technically did nothing wrong. This may seem unfair, but this strict vicarious liability standard is actually meant to shift the cost of implementing proper safety procedures over to employers. For example, a trucking company is more likely to implement and enforce rules for safer driving with its employee-drivers if the company is strictly liable for any harm caused by their drivers on the road.
Course and Scope of Employment
An employer can only be held liable if the employee caused harm while acting within the course and scope of his or her employment. What does this mean? In California, the “course and scope of employment” has not yet been consistently and fully defined. Whether an employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment depends largely on the factual circumstances of their particular case. Generally, however, an employee is acting within the course and scope of his or her employment if the actions were implicitly or explicitly directed by a superior, or if regular job duties were engaged at the time of their negligent/reckless conduct.
Negligent entrustment/supervision is a separate and distinct claim from that of vicarious liability. This theory of liability can be asserted against an employer if the employer knew or should have known that their employee would cause harm, and failed to prevent such harm caused by their employee’s negligent, reckless, or intentional actions.
Suppose, for example, that an employee has a history of drunk driving incidents. The employer is aware of this drunk driving history. The employer later allows the employee to use a company car to drive to a meeting. On the ride over, the employee is intoxicated and causes an accident. Given these facts, the employer may be held liable for negligent supervision and negligent entrustment of the vehicle to the employee. The employer should not have allowed the employee to drive to the meeting without a sober driver.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to the fault of another, you may be able to recover damages through a personal injury lawsuit. To speak with an experienced Beverly Hills personal injury lawyer today, call West Coast Trial Lawyers at (888) 539-9582 for a free consultation.