Countless Florida businesses use vehicles for delivering goods, visiting clients and customers, transporting staff, and making local deliveries. You probably don’t think much about these vehicles as you travel to your destination. However, if you are hit by a company vehicle, all sorts of legal issues come into play.
If the driver is performing a duty for the company at the time of a car accident, then liability may not be exclusive to the driver, and the company may share some financial responsibility.
In Florida, vicarious liability is known as “respondeat superior.” Under this law, injured victims can sue the employer of the individual who caused their injury. Meaning an employer is responsible for the negligent acts of its employees. For this principle to apply, the person who injured you must have been actively engaged in their job responsibilities or duties when the accident occurred.
Here we will look at a few cases involving victims who were struck by a company vehicle to explain how Florida law assigns fault in these types of personal injury cases.
3 Examples of Cases Involving a Company Related Vehicle
Employee Stopped At A Local Supermarket On Her Way To Work And Hit Someone Waiting At A Bus Bench
Elizabeth Paraiso, who worked as a fitness instructor at a health spa owned by Florida East Coast Properties, was contacted by her manager before going to work. Her manager requested that Paraiso stop at a local supermarket to buy a birthday cake for the assistant manager’s birthday on her way to work. Paraiso traveled five blocks outside her normal route to purchase the cake.
Before getting back to her regular route to arrive at work, the cake started to slip out of the passenger seat, and as Paraiso reached to catch it, she lost control of her personal vehicle. The car traveled off the road and struck William Sussman (the plaintiff), who was sitting on a bench waiting for the bus.
The accident resulted in Sussman suing Florida East Coast Properties under the vicarious liability law. Even though employers aren’t typically liable for employee negligence while traveling to work, the plaintiff alleged that the situation fell under the special errand exception, the coming and going rule.
Florida East Coast Properties argued that Paraiso was acting outside the scope of her employer’s business at the time of the accident. The court agreed that the employer should not be held liable for the accident and resulting injuries in the trial.
A Paid Employee, Who Worked on An As-Needed Basis, Killed Someone Driving a Company-Owned Van
Javier Robelo was fatally struck by a company-owned van driven by Elizabeth Pistone. On the day of the accident, John Pistone (Elizabeth’s husband and an agent of the defendant) requested his wife come to the office. While Elizabeth was not a paid employee, she worked on an as-needed basis for the defendant when available and only when she wanted to work. She did regularly drive the company-owned van, which was provided to John as part of his compensation for personal and work-related activities.
Generally speaking, an employer is not liable for injuries each time an employee causes injury in a vehicle owned by the employer. The key issue that must be determined is the nature and use of the vehicle before liability will be imposed upon an employer.
Here, when the accident occurred, the defendant wasn’t working and was simply driving to the company’s office in the company-owned van, a van that she used for both pleasure and business. Therefore, the defendant wasn’t liable, and a summary judgment was entered in its favor.
A Company Truck Used By An Employee, Who Was Instructed To Make A Delivery In The Truck And Who Let A Third Party Drive The Truck, Was Involved In A Car Accident.
John Edward Ward, a handyman, working for the National Fisheries, was instructed by his company to use a company-owned truck for making a delivery when he finished work for the day. After the delivery, he was instructed to go home and return the truck to work by 7 AM the following day.
Ward made the delivery and then traveled to a friend’s residence the same night. The next day, Ward started his day at 6:30 AM and traveled to the National Fisheries’ office. While in transit, he made a stop at a local bar near his place of employment and drank several beers with friends. He exited the bar between 9 AM and 10 AM with two unidentified individuals. Ward believed he had too much to drink and requested one of the people accompanying him to drive the company truck.
While this person was driving the truck, it collided with the plaintiff.
In Florida, the “dangerous instrumentality” doctrine imposes liability on the keeper of a dangerous instrument without the necessity of showing negligent actions by the defendant. Thus, when an owner permits the use of a vehicle by another, the owner is liable for injuries to a third person caused by the operation that the vehicle’s owner authorized.
Because Ward had permission to use the truck, even though he deviated from the specific instructions, the employer was not absolved from liability. An employer is not relieved of liability even when an employee deviates from specific instructions. Therefore, it was an error by the trial court to enter a summary final judgment in favor of National Fisheries, Inc. Meaning, it was wrong for the court to rule, as a matter of law, that the defendant was liable for the victim’s car accident injuries.
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As a Board-Certified Civil Trial Expert for over 38 years, Alan Sackrin has extensive experience dealing with car accident cases involving business-related vehicles. He offers a free initial consultation (over the phone or in-person) to answer your questions. When you’re ready to speak with a civil trial expert about your case, contact Alan today or give him a call at 945-458-8655.