When Can I Sue a Company for Personal Injury Based on an Employee's Actions?
In many cases of personal injury, it is the actions or omissions of an individual person that ends up causing significant injury to a victim, and not those directly made by a corporate body (product liability cases involving defective cases are a very notable exception to this). It could be a truck driver that falls asleep at the wheel causing an accident, a bouncer at a nightclub that uses excessive force causing brain damage, a grocery store worker that ignores a large puddle of vegetable oil in an aisle leading to fall, an escalator repair worker that disengages a safety mechanism leading to injury, or any other number of scenarios.
Negligence law principles tell us that the individual who breaches a legal duty by acting unreasonably and, as a foreseeable result, causes injury to a victim is thus liable for money damages to that victim. But few employees have the funds or insurance coverage to pay for the full medical costs, lost income, and pain and suffering of an injured victim. Thus, personal injury attorneys will turn to that individual’s employer to cover the plaintiff’s full range of losses. But when exactly is the employer indeed liable for an employee’s negligent actions?
Employers Are Vicariously Liable for Actions “Within the Scope of Employment”
The general rule in personal injury law is that an employer can be required to pay for the full costs of a plaintiff’s proven damages (even if the individual at fault contributes nothing to the recovery, which is often the case) when the negligent act or omission by the employee was done within the scope of employment. This is called vicarious liability.
What this means is that the employer will be liable if the employee’s act occurred while carrying out the duties of the employer. A trucking company is thus liable for a trucker’s negligence while making a delivery, as the trucker was carrying out acts on behalf of the company. On the omissions side (or “failure to act”), a grocery store is liable when a worker fails to take reasonable steps to clean up a dangerous condition or warn customers of it, as doing so was part of that worker’s duties on behalf of the company.
When a Worker’s Negligent Act Was Not Directed by the Company
Liability can be a bit more complicated when the worker’s negligent act was not one directly related to a duty of employment or when the worker violated the express direction of the employer, but the company may still be liable.
Take the example our escalator repair worker. Let’s say he had no business touching the safety mechanism. A court may still find that his act in disengaging the mechanism was closely connected with the work he was hired to do, and so was reasonably incidental to the scope of his employment such that the employer would still be liable.
In the case of the bouncer, the nightclub might have had rules against using excessive force against patrons. But, if a court found that the bouncer – however wrongly – was using excessive force in order to further the purposes of the nightclub, a court could still find that the nightclub was indeed liable under vicarious liability.
Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys in the Inland Empire
At McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP our personal injury team – led by by partner Cory Weck, a Marine Corps officer with over 20 years of service to his country and 15 years of experience litigating personal injury cases – has repeatedly won verdicts and settlements on behalf of clients across the Inland Empire in the millions of dollars. Our attorneys understand that the fear, anxiety, and pain that you and your family are going through following a personal injury, and we are dedicated to doing everything we can to help our clients get the help they need. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.