Many employers mistakenly believe they have no legal responsibility or liability for employees driving personal vehicles on company time. While employers may not be liable for employees driving to and from work or for personal errands, they are held liable if the employee's vehicle is used for business or within scope of his or her employment. Legally, employers are often found liable due to vicarious liability or negligence.
Vicarious liability is a law that claims the actions of an agent are in essence the same as the actions of the principle governing the agent. In essence, when an employer tells the employee to perform an action, it's as if the employer has performed that action.
Employers may also be held liable for a car accident due to negligence. This may involve negligent hiring, training, and supervising of employees. When a company hires employees who will be driving for the company, it is the employer's responsibility to make sure that those employees are safe drivers. The employer should have a process setup to assess employees and monitor their driving behaviors. If an employer fails to check whether employees are demonstrating the proper effort in preforming their tasks safely, then the employer could be liable for negligence.
The National Safety Council reported an actual example of both vicarious liability and negligence: "An employee was involved in a fatal crash while making 'cold calls' as he drove to a non-business-related event on a Saturday night. The firm did not own the phone or the vehicle, but the plaintiff claimed that the company was liable because it encouraged employees to use their 'car phones' and lacked a policy governing safe cell phone use. His firm settled the lawsuit for $500,000."
Driving is the most dangerous work related activity performed by employees, and since employers bear the liability risk for the actions of their employees, it's important that employers provide training to all employees to ensure safety. Checking employees driving records, creating a fleet safety program, and training employees in road safety eliminates the risk of negligence.
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