In most circumstances, an employer will be liable for the negligence of
In many accidents involving a commercial vehicle such as big truck, the
question frequently arises of whether the truck’s owner is liable
for the actions of an employee. In general terms the answer to this question
is “yes,” although there can be some variation from state
to state. In today’s post, our personal injury accident lawyer explains
the legal doctrine known as
respondeat superior and how this doctrine has been applied by the courts.
What does respondeat superior mean?
Respondeat superior (Latin: “Let the master answer”), sometimes called the “master-servant”
or the “Captain of the ship” relationship, is the legal doctrine
that holds an employer responsible for the actions of its employees or
agents. Law historians can trace its origins back to the Roman Empire,
where masters (“owners”) could be forced to pay compensation
to anyone who had suffered some loss due to the actions of one of his
or her servants. Over the centuries this “vicarious liability”
has been expanded, or limited, in accordance with the prevailing social
and political beliefs of a given nation or society. As it is usually understood
today in the United States,
respondeat superior refers to the liability of an employer for the actions of its employees.
Does respondeat superior apply in every trucking accident?
Many people are under the impression that an employer is automatically
liable for anything that its employees may do, but this is not the case.
To sue an employer, the accident victim (plaintiff) must be able to show
that there is evidence which will prove that:
1. The person who caused the accident meets the legal requirements to be
considered an employee.
The classic test of employee status has long been “Who is signing
the paycheck?” If an employer is paying wages, a fixed salary, or
a commission to an individual, then that individual will usually be held
to be an employee. Payments made by a business to an independent contractor
or to a subcontractor are generally not taken as sufficient to establish
an employer-employee relationship. There are some exceptions to this generalization,
and these exceptions should be explained by a personal injury lawyer.
2. The employee must have been performing their regular job duties at the
time of the accident.
In addition to the requirement that the employee must be performing the
“usual and customary” duties of his or her employment at the
time the accident occurred, some courts have held that if an employee
has use of a company-owned vehicle for employment purposes, the employee
may be considered to have been “on the job” while driving
to or from the employee’s residence to place of employment or job site.
3. The accident was a direct result of the employee’s actions and
those actions could be seen as acts of negligence.
Merely being involved in an accident does not make an employee, and hence
the employer, liable for damages related to the accident. The plaintiff
must be able to prove that the employee’s actions were such that
they would meet the legal definition of negligence.
4. The employer had a duty to supervise the employee’s actions and
failed to do so.
Although traffic accident cases are responsible for the greatest number of
respondeat superior filings, there are other types of lawsuits where
respondeat superior is usually assumed to be applicable. These cases include medical malpractice
cases where failure to adequately supervise an employee is identified
as resulting in a death or injury, and in instances of financial fraud
where the employer should have known that an employee was deliberately
engaging in deception regarding the sale and purchase of financial instruments
such as stocks and/or bonds.
Contact an accident lawyer if you think an employer may be liable for your injury
Liability in trucking accident injury cases is often not clearly established
until several weeks, if not months, after an accident. In many cases,
establishing liability will require resources that are beyond the reach
of most victims. Fortunately, a local truck accident lawyer will have
access to all necessary resources to determine if an employer could be
If you feel that an employer may have played a role in your accident injury,
your first step should be to contact an accident injury attorney. An accident
attorney will be familiar with your state’s laws regarding employer
liability in accident cases or in related civil matters. The majority
of accident lawyers do not charge you to hear the facts surrounding your
case and will often be able to advise you on a proper course of action
at the end of your visit.
In conclusion, anyone who is injured in an accident involving a commercial
vehicle, such as a truck, is strongly advised to retain the services of
a personal injury accident lawyer in order to protect their legal right
to compensation for their injuries and other losses.