Law Firm of Aaron Bortel

Car Accidents With Company Vehicle. Who’s Responsible for Irresponsible Driving Behavior

You love driving your brand-new company car. It definitely has its perks; you don’t have to worry about gas or repairs. But what you do worry about is getting in an accident. Something that, in many cases, is unavoidable. The big question here is responsibility; who pays if you get in an accident?

The answer to that, as any personal Ventura personal injury attorney will tell you, depends entirely on the circumstances at hand.

In many cases, in accordance with “Respondeat superior” (a legal doctrine), the employer is held responsible for any incidents of negligence or harmful actions committed by their employee while on the job. The fine line that exists here is whether an action happened in relation to the scope of the job set up by the employer.

The first thing to note here is that the action by the employee must be authorized by their employer; if an employee was tasked to drive to a conference several hours away, then the drive to that conference fits under the umbrella of “authorized actions.” Therefore, the employer is liable for an accident that occurs during that drive. There are, however, certain complexities within that simpler explanation. If the employee is involved in criminal or reckless activity during that company-sanctioned drive, liability shifts from the employer to the employee. Let’s say, for example, that the employee was drinking during his drive to the conference. As a result of his drinking, he hit someone’s car, clearly through no one’s fault but his own, and as a direct result of his DUI.

His employer can then refuse to compensate the driver for their damaged car, as the employer never told their worker to drink during his drive to the conference. Here, the employee is entirely at fault, and, because the accident resulted from criminal actions, could even fail to obtain workers’ compensation if he was injured in the accident.

If the employee decides to use the company car for anything non-business related, he/she may take full personal liability. Anything non-business can occur in two ways; after business hours or being devoid of company purpose (personal errands). If the employee causes an accident while driving a company car for a non-work-related purpose, the employee is liable for the accident.

There are several other factors that could affect an employee’s liability in an accident. If your company has a pre-arranged contract related to car policy, this could excuse their own liability from an accident. It is also important where the accident took place. Each state has its own specific legalities involving liability, and an accident that occurs in a certain state has the potential to change which party is responsible.

The insurance policy itself could also play a part in determining liability. Some companies may have insurance policies that have limited coverage in certain areas; in the event of an accident, if the

employers’ insurance is lacking, the employee in question might be responsible for any excess damage that occurs outside the scope of the company’s policy. This entire scenario could be grounds for dismissal; it is important that whenever you drive your company car, you follow all company rules and regulations, as well as state and federal driving laws. If you are found to have violated any company rules, your job could be terminated (make sure to speak to your superiors to obtain concrete company policy before driving your company car). If you are found to have violated a state or federal law, not only will it likely result in your termination, you could also be ticketed, fined and possibly incarcerated.

The most important thing to do if you are in an accident, especially one involving a company car, is to obtain as much evidence as you can surrounding what exactly happened. This means making sure to have the other driver’s license plate number and insurance policy information, as well as the police report. This also means finding any witnesses who might have seen the accident occur and acquiring their phone numbers so that they can testify on your behalf if need be. These actions can simplify a potentially complicated legal process. It is also likely that a business attorney or lawyer might be involved in your case; having that aforementioned evidence will help you help them. If you are the employer in this situation, it is highly advisable to have a business attorney on hand to help sift through the available evidence and decide which party is liable, in order to properly protect your business.

The bottom line; use your company car for company-related tasks, and always be aware of company car policies. If you stick to that simple rule, the likelihood of you being held responsible for an accident that occurs while you are behind the wheel shrinks considerably, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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About the Author

My name is Aaron Bortel. I practice in the state of California. I handle DUI cases exclusively and have been practicing for over 25 years.

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