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Employers May Be Liable for the Negligent Actions of Their Employees

Usually, when an accident occurs, the injured person will seek compensation from the person at fault for causing the injury. However, when an employee was at fault, the employer may be responsible for the injury, even when the employee was not technically “on the job.”

In a recent case in a federal court of appeals, an employee working for the federal government borrowed a car from his employer without receiving explicit permission before doing so. The employee drove the car back to his hotel, where he had been staying for work. On his way back, the employee was in a car accident, and another driver was seriously injured. The injured driver brought a claim against the employee as well as against the government.

The government moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the employee was acting outside the scope of his employment when the accident occurred. The employee was working in another city and staying at a hotel there. He was using a government car during work hours, but he was typically using his personal car after work. Yet he was not forbidden from using the government car outside work hours, and he was permitted to take the car back to the hotel overnight if he first obtained approval from his supervisor.

On the day of the accident, the employee requested to use the car overnight but had not yet received approval by the time he left work. His supervisor had allowed him to take the car overnight without first obtaining a signature in the past, and there was no evidence he had ever been denied a request. The government claimed he was not acting within the scope of his duties as an employee because he was not authorized to take the car overnight and claimed he would not have been given permission.

The trial court judge agreed with the employer because the government had not granted the employee explicit permission to use the government-owned vehicle overnight and dismissed the case. The plaintiff appealed the decision.

A federal court of appeals reversed the decision and sided with the plaintiff. The court held that even though the employee did not have explicit permission, he may have had implied permission from his employer. The court explained that the judge should have considered different factors to determine whether the employee was acting in furtherance of his employer, including the history of the relationship between the employer and the employee and what was normally done. Thus, there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the employee was using the car with his employer’s permission, and the case should not have been dismissed.

Liability of Employers in Illinois

Vicarious liability means that another person or entity is held responsible for a negligent person’s actions. In Illinois, vicarious liability arises generally in five scenarios:  employment, joint enterprises, apparent agency, driver-passenger car accidents, and parent-child relationships.

In the employment setting, generally an employer is held liable for the tortious conduct of employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior. To hold the employer responsible, an employee needs to be at fault in causing an injury, an employer-employee relationship needs to exist, and the employee must have acted within the scope of employment when the accident occurred. Sometimes the employer’s liability is clear, but often disputes arise, particularly in cases involving independent contractors, or when an employee did not have explicit permission from an employer to do something, as in the case above.

Have You Been Injured in a Car Accident?

If you have been injured in a car accident, you may be able to hold an additional person or entity liable for your injuries, including an employer. Sometimes it is not obvious that an employer may be responsible, and a thorough investigation is essential. At Moll Law Group, our Chicago car accident lawyers represent people who have been involved in devastating accidents, and we understand how important it is that you obtain compensation for your harm. Contact us at 312-462-1700 or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

See More Posts:

State Court Adopts Continuing Course of Treatment Doctrine, Potentially Extending Statute of Limitations in Some Medical Malpractice Cases, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, October 5, 2016.

Defendant Allowed to Reopen Case After Filing Response Seven Months Late, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, September 16, 2016.

Court Determines that Land Surveyors Are Considered “Professionals” for Negligence Claims, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, September 30, 2016.

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