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Respondeat Superior: Holding an Employer Responsible for a Negligent Employee’s Actions

One of the biggest hurdles personal injury plaintiffs face before initiating a lawsuit is determining which parties to name as defendants. Of course, a plaintiff does not want to frivolously name parties who had nothing to do with their injuries, but a plaintiff’s failure to name all potentially liable parties from the beginning can cause delays down the road. In some cases, it may even prevent a plaintiff from adding that party at a later date.

ChefOne often overlooked party that can frequently be named in personal injury lawsuits arising out of car or truck accidents is the employer of the at-fault party. The legal doctrine that allows for this form of vicarious liability is called “respondeat superior.” Of course, this doctrine only applies if the at-fault driver was performing some employment-related duty when the alleged act of negligence took place. Since so much is at stake for both the plaintiff and a defendant employer, the issue of whether an employee’s actions can be imputed to the employer is often a hotly contested issue. A recent case out of California illustrates the point.

Jorge v. Culinary Institute of America

The defendant was a private, not-for-profit college that focuses on culinary and baking education. Da Fonseca was a chef trainer at the defendant’s campus in St. Helena. One day on his way home from work, Da Fonseca struck Jorge and one other person with his vehicle. Jorge died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident.

Jorge’s family filed a wrongful death claim against Da Fonseca as well as against the defendant. The claim against Da Fonseca settled, and this case proceeded toward trial. However, the defendant argued at trial that it was not liable for the actions of Da Fonseca because he was not acting as an employee when the accident occurred. The trial court denied the defendant’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, and the jury returned a verdict in the amount of $885,000. The defendant appealed the issue of whether it was responsible for Da Fonseca’s conduct.

The court hearing the case noted that the general rule is an employer can be held liable for a negligent employee’s actions only when that employee is acting as an employee at the time of the accident. Relying on a principle called the “going and coming rule,” the court explained that an employee is not acting within the scope of his employment merely because he is commuting to work. The court elaborated, explaining that in some cases in which the employee is required to drive to work and keep his car available for the employer’s use, commuting may then be considered within the scope of employment. However, since that was not the case, the court held that Da Fonseca was not acting as an employee when he caused an accident on his drive home from work.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Auto Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of South Florida car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. It is important to discuss your case with an experienced attorney to determine if there may be additional parties that should be named as defendants. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the South Florida law firm of Cohn & Smith have decades of experience helping their clients seek compensation for their injuries from all liable parties. Call 954-431-8100 today to set up your free consultation.

Related Blog Posts:

Product Liability Appeal Dismissed, Based on Plaintiff’s Failure to Show Alternative Design, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, September 19, 2016.

Court Interprets Insurance Policy as “Per Accident” Rather Than “Per Insured Vehicle,” Limiting Company’s Liability, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, September 6, 2016.

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