That’s because Florida recognizes several scenarios in which an employer can be held responsible for the negligent actions of an employee. Those would include:
- Vicarious liability, based on respondeat superior doctrine (regardless of whether the company was actually negligent);
- Vicarious liability based on ownership of the vehicle and the dangerous instrumentality doctrine (again, regardless of whether the company was actually negligent)
- Direct liability based on theories such as negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent training, etc.
It’s worth noting that the employee need not necessarily be a driver for a living. If the individual is carrying out a task that at least in part benefits the company – or is driving a company vehicle – the company could be liable.
There may be exceptions, however, and the courts will consider a number of factors to determine whether the at-fault driver was in fact acting in the “course and scope of employment” (which is the same test used to determine whether an injury qualifies for workers’ compensation).
Recently, the California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District, Division Two, weighed the case of Jorge v. Culinary Inst. of Am. to determine whether a culinary school could be held liable for the negligent driving of one of its chef instructors, who failed to yield to two teenage pedestrians, striking them and causing serious personal injuries. There was little doubt the driver was at-fault – but was he acting in the course and scope of employment? The employer argued there was no evidence of this and sought summary judgment before the case went to trial. The trial court denied it, and the case went before a jury.
Those jurors were told about how the day of the accident, defendant driver drove his personal vehicle to his job as a culinary instructor. He parked his vehicle and worked his shift, never accessing his vehicle during his work day. As he drove home, he did have two of his dirty chef jackets in the vehicle, as well as a set of knives. However, there was no indication he was transporting those items for any specific work purpose or that the school had instructed him to do so.
After defendant driver hit the two pedestrians, a legal representative for the 14-year-old boy, who sustained severe and permanent personal injuries, filed a lawsuit against not just the driver, but also his employer, alleging vicarious liability based on the respondeat superior doctrine. The phrase “respondeat superior” is Latin for, “Let the Master Answer.” However, the school argued there was no grounds on which to assert such a claim, as the instructor hadn’t been working or acting in the scope of employment.
Jurors disagreed. The trial was bifurcated, with liability issues tried first. Jurors found both the driver and the school at-fault. Driver settled his portion for $30,000. The issue of damages against the school proceeded to a second trial, where jurors awarded nearly $900,000.
The appellate court reversed. The issue wasn’t whether the boy was seriously injured, but rather whether the school could be vicariously liable for the negligence of their employer. In this case, the court ruled, the answer to that is no because the instructor was not doing anything at the time of the pedestrian accident to further the interests of the school. He was simply commuting home. The coming-and-going rule in most instances holds that workers traveling to and from their job are not acting in the course and scope of employment.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Jorge v. Culinary Inst. of Am. , Sept. 16, 2016, California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Two
More Blog Entries:
Burger King Corp. v. Lastre-Torres – Third-Party Liability for Florida Work Injury, Sept. 18, 2016, California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District, Division Two