Even the simplest auto accident cases can be tricky, but cases involving company cars or work vehicles are often dizzyingly complicated. Collisions involving work vehicles raise questions of ownership, employment status and legal liability that usually require expert advice to resolve.
A legal principle called respondeat superior usually governs who’s on the hook for damages in car accidents involving company vehicles. The phrase is Latin for “let the master answer,” and it essentially means companies and organizations are financially responsible when their employees get in accidents on company time. The company accepts “vicarious liability” for the actions of its employees.
But the principle doesn’t cover every accident involving work vehicles. It’s not always obvious what a work vehicle actually is. If you’re driving a company car on your way home from the grocery store when you get in a fender-bender, is it still a work vehicle? If the company owns the vehicle, the answer is probably yes. But if the vehicle is your name, the opposite may be true. On the other hand, if you get in a car accident in your personal car while running an errand for the company, the company may be liable even though it didn’t explicitly hire you as a driver. The definition of “work vehicle” is often one of many gray areas in accident liability law.
Another gray area is employee status. Some organizations’ write employment contracts that may indemnify them and transfer liability for car accidents to the employee. These agreements sometimes apply even when the employee is driving a company-owned vehicle for a company purpose–although these sorts of agreements aren’t always legally binding. Employee classification also matters. Independent contractors may have greater personal liability than full-time employees, for example.
Given the nuance and complexity of these sorts of cases, people involved in a car accident with a work vehicle should seek legal advice. Hiring a personal attorney for these kinds of matters is important because the company’s lawyer represents the interests of the company, not the employee. A personal lawyer can protect accident victims by making sure the company doesn’t try to avoid its responsibility unfairly.