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Vicarious Liability of Employers in Personal Injury Cases

Posted in News,Personal Injury on November 28, 2016

Not all personal injury cases are straightforward from a strategy perspective.  In many cases, the defendant is not the solely responsible party.  By bringing in additional responsible parties, you can ensure that there are adequate funds necessary to secure your total damages award.

For example, suppose that you are injured in a car accident where the defendant-driver is minimally insured for about $40,000.  The claim is worth over $250,000.  The defendant cannot satisfy your damages in full.  There may be other liable parties that can be brought in that will help solve this problem, however.

Florida, like many other states, provides personal injury plaintiffs an opportunity to hold employers liable for the actions of their employees.  This can be very useful from a strategic perspective, as it provides plaintiffs with a defendant likely to be adequately insured or funded such that damages can be fully recovered.

There are two primary legal theories through which an employer can be held liable for the harm caused by their employees: vicarious liability and negligent hiring/supervision.

Vicarious Liability

Florida employers can be held liable for the harm caused by their employees so long as their employees were acting within the course and scope of their employment when the harm occurred.

How does this work?  Let’s consider a few examples for further clarity.

Suppose that you are injured in a motor vehicle accident.  The defendant-driver is a commercial truck driver who was on-duty at the time of the accident.  You not only have a claim against the driver, but also against the employer.  The truck driver’s operation of the vehicle at the time of the accident was within the scope of their employment – which primarily involved such driving duties.

Now, imagine instead that you are injured in a motor vehicle accident where the defendant-driver had left work for the day.  Suppose that the driver was headed on their way to a local mall to purchase some gifts for a friend’s birthday – nothing at all to do with work duties.  In these circumstances, it is highly unlikely that you would be able to hold the employer liable, as the defendant had finished with work for the day and was not doing anything related to work at the time of the accident.

Finally, imagine that you are injured in a motor vehicle accident where the defendant-driver is a secretary at a local company, but was asked to make a quick delivery by their boss during the workday.  The delivery was not part of the defendant’s normal job duties. 

Despite this, the employer is likely liable for the injuries caused by their employee.  In Florida, an employer can be held liable for the harm caused by their employee if said employee was acting in furtherance of a business purpose or interest (i.e., by going along with a supervisor’s request).

Negligent Hiring/Supervision

Employers can be held directly liable if they fail to exercise reasonable care in hiring or supervising their own employees.  In Florida, this failure constitutes a separate claim than that of vicarious liability.

How can an employer be negligent with regard to hiring or supervision?

Suppose that a retail store employer hires a man that they know has a past of violent, aggressive behavior.  The new employee has a history of violence against retail customers. 

Suppose that the employer does not adequately address the issue by supervising the new employee to ensure that the violent behavior does not occur again.  Further, suppose that the employer does not attempt to minimize the risk by moving the employee to a position that is not client-facing.

If the employee ends up causing the expected harm to a customer, then the employer could be found liable for negligent hiring/supervision.  The employer knew of the employee’s capacity for violence and failed to reasonably address the risks.

To put it in simpler terms: employers have a responsibility to reasonably address the risks posed by their employees.

If you or someone you love has been injured as the result of someone else’s wrongful acts or omissions, seek legal guidance from a skilled Fort Lauderdale accident attorney at the Law Offices of David I. Fuchs.