Are employers responsible for accidents caused by an employee?

San Mateo County Personal Injury Attorney Reuben Donig: That’s a very good and a very interesting question. I’d like to be able to say just flat out “yes”, but it’s not quite that simple. The employee has to be acting within the course and scope of employment. So, let’s say you have a large company, Apple or Google, and an employee is driving to work. Normally, if he causes an accident while driving to work, he would be liable but the company would not be liable. If he’s leaving work, same principle applies. But if the accident takes place during work hours, or while that employee is performing a task for the benefit of the employer, in other words, let’s say on the way to work the Google employee is asked by Google, “Stop at the store and pick up some more legal tablets. We’re running low.” Now, even though he hasn’t got to work yet, that employee is now acting in the course and scope of employment, so the employer would be liable. Google, in that case, would be liable if on the way to work he causes a major injury and he doesn’t have the sufficient insurance on his own car to cover it. Google’s insurance or Google itself would have to cover it.

And then you get the interesting situation where sometimes employees, particularly higher-echelon employees, are required by their company to have a car for use for business purposes, and that even allows the rules to be stretched a bit further. Now if that car is essentially a company car or used for company purposes and the employee is required to have that car available for the benefit of the company, sometimes if the accident is caused, technically outside of the course and scope of employment, you can still get the employer into the case under the vicarious liability or respondeat superior rule of law. So, yes, an employer is liable for the motor vehicle accidents caused by an employee if in any way the employer’s business interests were being furthered at the time the employee caused the accident with the car.

(Attorney Reuben Donig specializes in personal injury law and premises liability, including auto and car accidents in San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, Alameda County and San Francisco County. Visit him at if you have a question you’d like to ask).

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