If I am hurt in a car or truck wreck, is the company employing the at-fault driver liable for my injuries, or am I limited to suing the driver individually? In most cases, the answer is “Yes, you may sue the company too.” An injured party can sue the company as well as the driver, though there are exceptions.
If a driver is in the course and scope of his employment at the time he injures someone in a car or truck wreck, the company is generally liable for the injuries under the doctrine of Respondeat Superior. This old Latin phrase translates to mean that the master is financially responsible for the wrongdoing of the servant. In present-day Georgia, that principle exists to this day. If the employer admits that the employee was on duty at the time of a collision, then the employer is also responsible for damages automatically if the employee is proven to be at fault for the wreck. An experienced truck accident lawyer can help you in this instance.
In some cases, the employer may dispute whether the employee was in the course and scope of their employment at the time of the collision. The employer may claim that the employee was off duty or that he or she was on an unauthorized personal break, not on company business. For instance, suppose a delivery driver operating a company van is supposed to be travelling to a customer’s home for a scheduled delivery, but instead decides to drive to Walmart first for some personal items. Suppose that employee hits someone in the Walmart parking lot. Is the employer responsible? Maybe not. The employer may dispute responsibility since the employee was not on the business of the company at the time.
Even under the scenario where the employer is not responsible, the auto insurance covering a company vehicle the employee drove when they caused the wreck should still cover the incident. So long as that driver had permission to be driving that vehicle at the time of the collision, insurance should still apply. However, if the employee is driving his or her own vehicle, and not a company car, then the injured victim may be stuck with the personal liability insurance policy of the employee, the dollar limits of which are probably much lower than a corporate insurance policy.
What if the offending driver is not an employee of the Company, but rather an independent contractor? Is the company liable for an independent contractor that hurts someone?
Here, the answer is not simple. Generally, a company is not responsible for the damages caused by an independent contractor. If a company contracts with a delivery service to deliver its goods to a customer and the delivery driver causes a truck wreck, the company which sent the goods is not liable. However, there are exceptions. If a commercial vehicle is involved where the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) apply, the trucking company is liable for the negligence of the semi-truck driver, even if that driver is an independent contractor, so long as the driver is under the dispatch of the trucking company. Federal law will not allow trucking companies to escape liability by employing independent contractors as opposed to employee truck drivers.
These legal distinctions can be difficult for inexperienced lawyers to grasp. Many times, companies may work to obscure the true nature of their relationship with the at-fault driver to avoid liability. These inquiries are fact-specific, and there is no substitute for good, forensic legal investigation. It is very important to investigate all the facts through depositions, document requests, and subpoenas to make sure a liable company does not get off the hook.
We have investigated and litigated hundreds of auto accident and truck accident cases involving companies where these liability issues are relevant. We would be happy to review your situation and offer a free, confidential evaluation. Call 770-717-5100 if you would like to schedule a meeting.