Vicarious Liability and Colorado Car Accidents Caused by Employees
Workers are often asked to drive either a company or personal vehicle to perform the duties of their employment. But are drivers who cause accidents while working liable for the damages, or is their employer responsible?
When the employee is performing employer-appointed tasks, he or she is said to be acting in the course and scope of employment. If he or she causes an auto accident in Colorado while performing work duties, the employer is usually held liable. But if the employee broke the law, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the accident occurred, the employer would likely not be held liable.
The Employer/Employee Relationship
When an employer hires an employee, they are doing more than bringing a new person into their workforce; they are starting a new legal relationship. Under the legal theory of respondeat superior, an employer can be held liable for the negligent acts of their employees, as long as the employee is in the course of their service.
But the same is not usually true regarding work completed by an independent contractor who has freedom of action and choice when it comes to the tasks performed, and an employer/employee relationship typically has not been formed. For this reason, an employer is not typically held liable for accidents caused by independent contractors, even if they are working when the injury occurs.
What Is Vicarious Liability?
Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that holds someone responsible for the negligent actions or omissions of another individual. In the case of an employer/employee relationship, an employer is vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, even if the employer is not directly responsible for the accident and subsequent injury.
Many employers are unaware that they can be held liable for actions committed by their employees while they are at work. This liability extends beyond automobile accidents and can also include bullying, harassment, violent or discriminatory acts, and even libel and slander. To minimize such responsibility, employers should take reasonable steps to prevent such negligent acts from occurring, including checking the driving records of all employees who are required to drive as part of their job responsibilities.
An employer may not always be vicariously liable for the negligent acts of his employees, as evidenced by these examples:
- If the employee deviated from their duties by stopping at a bar or a friend’s house, for example, this behavior will likely be determined to be engaging in frolic for his own benefit, indicating that they were not acting in the course and scope of their employment. In this instance, the employer would not be held liable for an accident that may have occurred.
- However, if the employee only slightly deviated from the course and scope of their employment (took a detour that was closely related to his work duties, for example), their employer might still be held responsible for any injuries they caused.
Although employers are often rightly held liable for the negligent conduct of their employees while they are on the job, this does not take the employee off the hook. Employees are still required to act as a reasonable person would and avoid causing injury to another party, whether they are on the clock or not.