Driving the company car has its perks. You don't have to pay for gas out of your own pocket. You don't need to worry about putting miles or wear and tear on your own vehicle. But what happens if you have a car accident in a company-owned vehicle?
Whether it's a fender bender or a major collision, who pays for it? You? Your employer's insurance coverage? The question will turn on whether you were acting within the scope of your employment duties during the time of the accident.
The following article will explain what to do if you need legal help from a personal injury lawyer following a car accident in a company vehicle.
In most cases, an employer will be responsible for the actions of their employees under an age-old doctrine of "respondeat superior" or, in plain English, "vicarious liability."
Under vicarious liability, employers are liable for their employee's negligent actions or non-actions while working within the scope of their employment.
For example, a truck driver making a delivery during business hours fails to stop at a red light and hits a pedestrian. Here, the employer will likely be liable because:
- The employee was acting within the scope of his duties; and
- Wasn't committing any crimes
Keep in mind that for an act to be within the course of employment, it must either be:
- Authorized by the employer; or
- Be so closely related to an authorized act that an employer should be responsible
Another important factor is the type of insurance policy the employer carries. Many companies have collision coverage that extends to employees, but some don't. If you drive a company vehicle, you will likely want to clarify these terms with your employer ahead of time.
Employees, Company Cars, and Criminal Activities
Picture this. A salesperson regularly uses the company's luxury vehicle to take clients to business lunches (with the company's consent).
One day, she decides to take a very important client out to a fancy dinner and orders several expensive bottles of wine to impress the client. After dinner, the salesperson is driving back to the office in the company car and hits a parked motorcycle, breaking her arm as a result of the crash.
Perhaps she had too many glasses of wine, far exceeding the mandate of her employer, and was driving under the influence of alcohol. Clearly, it is not within the scope of an employee's duties to commit a crime, no matter which way you try to spin it.
In this case, the employer can rightfully refuse to indemnify the motorcycle owner, and the salesperson may not be able to make a claim against the employer's insurance company or through workers' compensation insurance. However, keep in mind that determining the scope of employment can be interpreted differently and many factors can come into play when deciding if an employer is liable.
Going on a Frolic During Business Hours? Think Again
Considering taking your employer's truck out for a spin after work or even during your shift, but not for any work-related purpose? Think again. An employee who decides to do their personal errands while on company time and causes an accident might not have protection from personal liability.
Known as a "frolic" in some jurisdictions, it doesn't matter if the employee is doing this on company time or not. The employee is acting in their own personal capacity and not at the instruction of their employer. Here, the employer may not be legally required to pay for any damages or injuries the employee causes as a result of a non-work-sanctioned activity or a frolic.
Most companies have policies on these issues. Employees should be familiar with them before using a company vehicle for any purpose.
Law Enforcement and Liability Insurance
When a car accident happens, contact law enforcement. They will create an official report of the accident. Additionally, law enforcement can help determine who was at fault in the accident. This can help determine which party's liability insurance should cover the damages.
Providing and Getting Insurance Information
After a car accident, exchange insurance information with all involved parties. This includes:
- Your policy number
- The name of your insurance company
- The contact information of the insured parties
If the accident involves a company vehicle, the insurance information of the company should also be provided.
Contact Information and the DMV
After an accident, you can also report accident details to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This can be important for insurance claims and potential legal actions.
Medical Bills and Accident Law
Several sources can cover medical bills resulting from a car accident. If the accident happened while you were performing work-related duties in a company vehicle, your employer's workers' compensation insurance might cover your medical expenses. If another party's negligence caused the accident, their liability insurance might cover your medical costs.
Accident law and insurance policies can be complex, so it would be helpful to consult with a personal injury lawyer if you have questions.
Filing a Car Accident Claim
If you are involved in a car accident with a company vehicle, you may need to file a car accident claim with the insurance company. The company's insurance adjuster will likely scrutinize your claim. It's best to have a lawyer guide you through this process to make sure that you receive fair compensation.
Auto Insurance and Car Accident Cases
In the event of an accident in a company vehicle, the auto insurance of the company would typically provide primary coverage. However, there may be exceptions to this.
For instance, if you are using your personal vehicle for work purposes and get into an accident, your personal auto insurance might be the primary coverage. This depends on the insurance policies in place and the circumstances surrounding your accident.
Take some time to understand the terms and conditions of your company's insurance policy. The policy may cover property damage, personal injury, and other related expenses. However, it may not cover actions outside the scope of employment, such as frolics or criminal activities.
Dealing With Insurance Adjusters
After a car accident involving a company vehicle, you will likely be dealing with an insurance adjuster.
The adjuster's job is to:
- Investigate the accident
- Assess the damage
- Determine how much the insurance company should pay
Remember, the insurance adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you. Their goal is to minimize the payout for the insurance company. So, be careful when dealing with insurance adjusters.
Personal Injury and Pain and Suffering
If you are injured in a company vehicle, you may be entitled to compensation for your personal injury, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Depending on the specifics of the company's insurance policy, your employer's insurance could cover it.
Personal injury could include:
- Physical injuries
- Mental distress
- Other related medical expenses
Pain and suffering refer to physical discomfort, emotional distress, and other negative effects on your quality of life that result from the accident.
Who Is the At-Fault Driver?
In an accident involving a company vehicle, determining who the at-fault driver is can be complicated. If the employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident, the employer might be deemed responsible. However, if the employee was engaging in a frolic or committing a crime, they might be considered the at-fault driver.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the time period within which a legal action must be initiated. If you are involved in an accident with a company vehicle and plan to file a lawsuit, you must do so within the statute of limitations. Look up your state's statute of limitations here.
If you are injured in an accident while driving a company vehicle for work purposes, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. These benefits can cover medical expenses and lost wages. However, workers' comp typically does not cover accidents that occur during a frolic or while committing a crime.
Are Independent Contractors Covered?
If an independent contractor drives a company vehicle and gets into an accident, the rules differ. Generally, companies are not responsible for the actions of independent contractors. However, if the contractor was performing tasks within the scope of their contracted work, the company might still be liable. An attorney can help you determine whether you're covered in these situations.
Can an Employer Be Liable for Wrongful Death?
Yes. If a company vehicle is involved in a fatal accident, the employer could potentially be liable for wrongful death, particularly if the employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident.
Car Accidents in Company Vehicles: Related Resources
Wrecked Your Company Car? Get Legal Help From a Car Accident Lawyer
If you've been in a car accident in your company car, get legal advice from a personal injury attorney. If you've been hit by a driver of a company car and want to be fully compensated by the responsible party for a personal injury claim, you may have to sue both the employer and the employee. The best way to handle the situation is to discuss your injury case with an experienced car accident attorney today.