What is an employer's legal liability if their employee causes an accident in a company vehicle?
Question Details: Recently, I was at a red light completely stopped in a residential zone. A man in a larger truck driving 65 in a 45 mph zone did not see the light or my truck stopped and slammed into the back of me without ever applying his brakes. My back was broken in 2 places, 1 vertebra in the thoracic area just under my shoulder blades and 1 in my lower back L4 that caused the disk above L4 to herniate and the disk below to herniate. My head hit and broke the steering wheel and then went through the back window of the standard cab of my truck. And yes, my seat belt was on. I no longer have control of my left leg and I have issues with my right leg. I recently went through a series of 4 back surgeries to have the nerves burnt off to relieve the pain that I am in and I'm waiting to be seen by specialists to see what else can be done. The company has a 1 million dollar liability insurance policy on the truck. When the guy who hit me got out of his truck, he ran up to me and said, "I am so sorry, it is all my fault. I had a really bad day and did not see you. I am so sorry". He repeated this to the officer as well. The way I was always taught was that whenever you are in a company vehicle, you represent that company whether you are driving to or from work, and if you had a really bad day then work is probably on your mind as well, so there is no switch that says I am not on duty. This accident has changed my life forever. I am no longer self-sufficient. A million dollars will not even touch this. Is there any recourse with the company at all?
You are wrong about essentially always being on duty--the law does not recognize that because we may think about work when not at work, that therefore our employer is always liable. An employer is liable for an employee's negligent (careless) acts or accidents--including car accidents--IF the employee was actually driving the vehicle for work at the time: i.e. he was doing his job when he was driving, whether that is delivering something or going to a job site or client/customer for a meeting. If the accident occured in the course of work, the employer is liable, but if it occured when the employee was commuting to or from work, or driving out to get food on his lunch break, that's the employee's own time (commuting is not considered work time; it is before or after work) and the employer is not liable.
But independent of the above, a vehicle's owner is liable for the accidents of those whom the owner lets drive his/her/its vehicles, so if this was a company truck, the company is liable for what the person whom it let drive the truck did.
Note that if the employer is an LLC or corporation, you can likely hold the company liable, but not the owner of the LLC or corporation personally: LLCs and corporations shield their owners from liability.