Employer Liability for Employee Car Accidents

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If the driver of a car or other vehicle is using the vehicle on the job, then the driver’s employer is liable for any injuries caused in accidents for which the employee was at fault. This is true whether the employer is a private individual, a business, or a public agency. This rule of employer liability applies whether you were the driver of another vehicle, a pedestrian, a passenger in the employee’s personal car being used on the job, or a passenger in the employer’s car being driven by the employee.

Was the Driver 'On the Job'?

Whether someone is on the job while driving is not always a simple question. In general, any time someone is performing any duties related to work, the person can be considered on the job even when also doing personal business and driving a personal car. For example, running errands in a personal car during lunch is not considered work-related, but if the employee is also picking up or dropping off some­thing for work, the lunchtime driving becomes “on-the-job” time. Likewise, commuting to and from work gen­erally is not considered on-the-job driving, even in a company car. But if the driver has to make work-related stops on the way, or has to drive to and from a job site other than the usual place of business, the driving might legally be considered on-the-job driving.

You Can (Sometimes) Let the Insurers Sort It Out

The question of whether someone was on the job at the time of an accident is not usually some­thing you will need to sort out. Most drivers have personal automobile liability insurance, so if you believe the driver might have been on the job, send a notice of the accident to both the employer’s busi­ness insurance company and to the driver’s personal insur­ance company. Then the two insurers will have to sort out which one will provide the primary coverage.

Only if the driver is personally uninsured, or has insurance coverage so low that it does not provide full compensation for your injuries, will you have to concern yourself with the question of whether the employee was on the job when the accident hap­pened. If there is no simple ­answer, then the issue becomes another factor thrown into the general hopper of negotiations -- along with whose fault the accident was and how much your injuries are worth.

Sometimes, the issue of whether an employee was on the job can become both very signifi­cant and very complicated. If the only available insur­ance is through the employer and the insurer is arguing that the employee wasn’t working, you may need to hire a lawyer to sort things out.

Getting More Information and Legal Help

For more tips on filing a claim for injuries after a car accident, and in-depth information on what to expect at every step in your case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And if you’re thinking about filing a lawsuit after a car accident, you may want to consider talking with a personal injury attorney to make sure that all your legal bases are covered and your rights are protected.