When a car accident is caused by someone who is working at the time of the collision, there are a few issues that may warrant further exploration. The first is workers’ compensation benefits for the driver who was working, as these benefits can usually be paid regardless of whether he or she was at-fault. The second, for other parties, is one of vicarious liability.
The legal doctrine of respondeat superior, Latin for, “Let the master answer,” allows employers to be held responsible for the actions of their employees when those workers are acting in the course and scope of employment. That means injured parties don’t have to prove the employer actually did anything wrong, so long is it established the employee was negligent. This can prove a valuable source of compensation for those injured.
One such case was recently ordered to be retried by the Indiana Court of Appeals. In Sony DADC U.S. Inc. v. Thompson, a security guard sued both Sony and one of its employees after the worker struck the plaintiff while on defendant property as employee was driving to recycle personal items on company property.
At issue is whether defendant employee was whether he may be considered “at work” at the time of the crash. Although he was an employee on company property, was he really acting in the course and scope of employment?
According to court records, complainant worked as a security guard for a private contractor at defendant building in Terre Haute. As he walked through the parking lot, he was struck by defendant employee, who had clocked out for the day, but was still on company property because he had some personal items he was planning to place in the company’s recycle bin.
Plaintiff sued defendants for injuries sustained in the car accident. In a pretrial order, trial court judge determined as a mater of law that Sony was vicariously liable because the employer was acting in the course and scope of employment. That meant the only issue to be hammered out was how much he should be paid.
Jurors awarded plaintiff $500,000 in damage, but that award was halved because he was found to have 50 percent comparative fault.
Following trial, defendant appealed, arguing the judge erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of vicarious liability. The appellate court agreed and reversed.
While it may seem common sense that an employee on a personal errand is not acting in the course and scope of employment, it truly depends on the individual circumstances of the case. For example, defendant company made great efforts to become ISO (International Standards Organization) certified, and part of that was establishing a recycling center on site and training employees on the importance of recycling. After the company became ISO certified, it would undergo regular inspections to make sure the recycling site was still operational and workers were still using it.
At the time of the accident, plaintiff was going to investigate a vehicle parked illegally while defendant employee was taking his personal recycling items to the company recycling center on the other side of the parking lot. His car windows were frosted over and while he did turn on the defroster, they weren’t all the way clear before he started driving.
As a result of the crash, plaintiff sustained injury to his knee cap, he was forced to undergo two surgeries and was no longer able to work at his previous job and he retired.
In its reversal order, the appellate court said there were conflicting issues of material fact about whether defendant employee was in fact acting in the course and scope of employment. The worker’s job had nothing to do with recycling so the question is whether the worker was furthering his employer’s business by doing so with his own personal items. There is a case to be made for both sides, and now, that issue will be decided by a jury.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Sony DADC U.S. Inc. v. Thompson, July 13, 2016, Indiana Court of Appeals
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Etherton v. Owners Insurance Co. – Breach of Contract Auto Insurance, July 18, 2016, Anderson Car Accident Lawyer Blog