Are drivers of company cars who cause accidents while at work liable for damages, or is their employer responsible? What about a driver in their own car, but on company business?
The answer? It depends.
An employer is vicariously liable for the actions of his employees, even if the employer himself is not directly responsible for the injury. If an employee is driving a vehicle while in the course and scope of his employment – to perform work duties directed by his employer – the employer is liable for any injuries arising from any accident the employee caused.
Scope of Employment
When the employee is performing tasks that his employer is paying him to do, he is acting in the course or scope of his employment, and if he causes an automobile accident while performing work duties, the employer is typically liable. But if he deviated from his duties by stopping at a bar, for example, it will likely be determined that he engaged in frolic for his own benefit, was not in the course and scope of his employment, and his employer will not be held liable.
When an employer hires an employee, he is doing more than bringing a new member to the workforce; he is starting a new relationship. Under the legal theory of respondeat superior, an employer can be held liable for the negligent acts of his employees, as long as the employee is in the course of their service.
But the same is not usually true regarding work completed by an independent contractor who has freedom of action and choice when it comes to the tasks performed, and an employer/employee relationship typically does not exist. For this reason, an employer is not typically held liable for accidents caused by independent contractors, even if they are performing work for him at the time of the injury.