Vicarious Liability for Auto Accidents Can Help Protect Auto Accident Victims
When Florida drivers embark for a short drive to the market or a long and exciting road trip to a far-off destination, they sincerely hope that all of the drivers that they encounter on the Florida highways and roads are operating their vehicles in a safe manner. In addition to ensuring the safe speed and maneuvering of their vehicles, we hope that drivers are also following the rules of the road, such as Florida’s law that prohibits any driver from using his or her cell phone while driving unless the call or text can be achieved using a hands-free option. But as many injured drivers and passengers are finding out the hard way, some commercial drivers aren’t following the law and the damages that they cause can be extensive.
Vicarious Liability in Accident Cases
Dyke Industries is a large family-owned lumber company based in Georgia and does business throughout the South, including Florida. Several years ago, a Dyke Industries driver was hauling a load through the Sunshine State and struck an elderly woman. Through an investigation, it was learned that the driver was using his work-issued telephone at the time of the accident. In 2001, a Florida court ruled that although Dyke Industries was not itself the cause of the accident and the subsequent injuries, but that it was nonetheless responsible based on the legal doctrine of vicarious liability. The court ordered that the lumber company pay damages of over $16 million.
What is Vicarious Liability?
Vicarious liability involves liability being shared with another. Generally (and in the case above), vicarious liability exists between an employee and an employer (also called an agent and a principal). When an agent is doing business on behalf of their principal, the principal will sometimes be jointly liable for damages caused by the agent. Although an employer may escape liability in certain circumstances, current laws provide a great deal of leeway for plaintiffs to recover for damages.
In order for a principal to be liable for a third party’s injuries, the agent must have been acting on behalf of the principal. Thus, a truck driver that was hauling a load for a business owner would be acting on behalf of the owner in question. Another situation that involves the truck driver and the business owner could end differently if the driver was using his personal vehicle to drive to or from work. The act of driving to a workplace is typically not considered an act that benefits the principal.
Certain circumstances can arise that require a court to determine whether an agent was furthering the interests of their principal or the agent was pursuing his or her own interests, a situation that would not typically implicate vicarious liability. These types of situations are common when an agent driver diverts from his or her normal route. Generally, detours that are small and that aren’t made to pursue any major deviation from the planned route or instructions provided to the driver will implicate vicarious liability in the event that there is an accident. Although, when a driver takes a major deviation that is not in furtherance of their employer’s interests, the doctrine of vicarious liability is not implicated and the principal will typically not be responsible for the damages.
The case above involved a truck driver that was using his cell phone, an action that was not prohibited by his company at the time of the accident. Because it was not against the rules and because the driver was acting primarily in furtherance of his employer’s interests, the damages that were caused were the responsibility of both the driver and the employer.
Our Attorneys Can Help You
Because accidents involving employees of companies are generally somewhat complicated and require extensive investigations and research, it is in one’s best interest to contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as an accident occurs. The skilled professionals at the Tallahassee law firm of Barrett, Fasig & Brooks have decades of experience getting injured clients just like you what they deserve. Give us a call today to set up your free initial consultation at (866) 346-4186 or (850) 224-3310.