Vicarious Liability in Georgia Trucking Accidents

Earlier this month in Warren County, Georgia, a man died after the FedEx truck he was driving collided with another tractor trailer on Interstate 20. After the FedEx truck hit the tractor trailer, it ran off the roadway and hit several trees. Trucking accidents such as this one are tragic, and usually end up involving multiple parties when the case comes to trial including the driver of the truck and the owner of the truck.  Unlike accidents between two cars, trucking accidents can be very legally complicated.


Who Is Responsible in a Trucking Accident?

Georgia has adopted legal doctrine known as
respondeat superior. This doctrine allows someone who has been seriously injured to sue an employer for the wrongdoing of one of the employer’s employees.  An employer may be held responsible for the wrongdoing or negligent acts of their employee if the employee was acting in the course and scope of their employment. This means that if the FedEx truck driver in the Warren County case above was on his normal delivery route or was working to further the interests of his employer, than FedEx could be held liable. If the FedEx employee had been on a personal drive or an errand unrelated to his job, then his employer would not be responsible for his negligent actions.


Why Would I Want to Use the Doctrine of Respondeat Superior in My Personal Injury Case?


In 2015 FedEx made over twelve billion dollars in revenue.  In contrast, the average annual salary for truck drivers is around $40,000. Someone who suffers serious injuries can quickly find their medical expenses skyrocket over $100,000 or much more if long term treatment is required. As such, seeking to claim from an employer rather just an employee may allow for a recovery that covers more of your medical bills. While a large settlement is not guaranteed when suing an employer, they are more likely to be to cover your medical expenses and other costs from a financial perspective than is an individual.  Especially with a company like FedEx, the employer may be able to afford a higher level of insurance coverage than the individual driver alone.  While the types of damages you can recover do not differ between employee and employer, the ability to pay usually becomes significant.


How Do You Prove That an Employee Is Acting in the Scope of Their Employment?


Proving any element of a legal case can be challenging even with an experienced lawyer.  A common question of fact for employer liability cases is whether or not an employee is actually acting in the course and scope of his or her employment.  This will be proven through things like testimony, employee handbooks, and other pieces of evidence that highlight what the employee was doing before and during the accident.  In Georgia, there is a presumption that if an employee is driving a vehicle that is owned by the company, than the employee was acting in the course and scope of their employment. This presumption can be refuted. To remove themselves from liability, the burden to show the employee was not acting in the scope of their employment rests on the employer. If the employer fails to show sufficient evidence to the contrary, they will be responsible for the accident.


When Can an Employer Be Held Responsible for the Actions of Their Employees?


In personal injury cases, employers can be held liable only when the employee is doing work activities. But what happens when you are in an accident with someone on their way to or from their job? Georgia courts have determined that when an individual is in transit to and from their job, this does not count as actually being at work. As such, if an accident occurs, an injured party will solely be able to look at the at-fault driver and not the driver’s employer. Georgia courts have also indicated that accidents that happen during an employee’s lunch break follow this same rule.


Like many areas of the law, the rule that an employer cannot be held responsible for an employee coming to or going from work has exceptions. These exceptions include when the employee is asked to do something for the employer on their way home, like drop something off at a location or pick up something for the next day.  There have also been cases where employees are using business cellphones, and have been in accidents on the way home and their employers have been held responsible for damages resulting from any accidents. A recent example of this Hunter v. Modern Continental Construction Company Inc., where an individual was making a business call on his way to work, and his construction company employer was found liable when he crashed his vehicle. Other jurisdictions have extended texting and responding to business emails to fall under the liability of an employer even if an employee is violating a local ordinance or statute.


Other Versions of Vicarious Liability in Georgia


While employers are usually included in lawsuits because against employees because they have great financial resources, there are also other situations where the doctrine of vicarious liability will be important to consider. The primary example of this comes from a parent child relationship.  While parents cannot be liable for the torts of their children based on the parent child relationship alone, they may be liable if they are negligent in providing their child access to a vehicle. This concept is known as negligent entrustment.


How Can a Georgia Injury Attorney Help?

If you or a loved one has been in an accident, we want to help. At the Law Offices of John B. Jackson, our dedicated Georgia auto accident injury lawyers understand that your primary goal is recovery, both physically and financially. In certain cases holding an employer liable for the actions of an employee can be very important, especially if you or your family is faced with high costs. Employers often have liability insurance that can cover your expenses that employees themselves do not have. We can help you with your case and improve the chances that you get the compensation you deserve from the parties that contributed to your injuries.