With more delivery and long-haul transport trucks on the road now, you may wonder what would happen if you got into an accident with one.
Would the driver have insurance?
Can you only recover from the driver, or is their employer liable too?
These are important questions, and understanding vicarious liability law will help to answer them.
If you have any questions, please contact us today.
Vicarious Liability Definition
The law of vicarious liability assigns responsibility for damages to someone who did not cause harm but has a legal relationship with the person who acted negligently.
It applies whether the negligent party does something to cause injury or fails to act when they have a duty to do so.
Both civil and criminal codes contain multiple examples of vicarious liability laws, but the most common form of vicarious liability is respondeat superior.
This doctrine holds an employer responsible for the acts of an employee or agent.
Thus, if an employee of a fruit company hits you while driving a semi-truck for work, the fruit company may be liable for your injuries and the damage to your car.
How will you know? You must prove a few factors before the fruit company will be on the hook:
- The driver was at fault in the accident,
- The driver was an employee at the time the accident occurred, and
- The employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the crash.
Additionally, in the accident context, it is essential to remember that Colorado is an at-fault, comparative negligence state.
That means you cannot recover compensation at all unless you were less than 50% responsible for the accident.
Employee vs. Independent Contractor
To assign vicarious liability in Colorado, you must show that the driver was indeed an employee—as opposed to an independent contractor.
Respondeat superior hinges on the employer’s ability to control the employee’s actions.
If the fruit company supplied the truck, assigned the driver to make a delivery, and paid the driver a regular salary, then the agent most likely was an employee at the time of the accident.
But if the driver instead operated as an independent contractor, the fruit company would likely escape blame.
A Boulder trucking accident attorney can help you determine the difference.
Acting Within the Scope of Employment
The next major issue in deciding if vicarious liability law applies is determining whether the employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment when they hit you.
In other words, was the semi-truck driver headed to the fruit pick-up or delivery point when the accident occurred?
If the employee detoured to stop for coffee, the parties likely would dispute whether this was within the scope of the driver’s delivery job.
On the one hand, it does not directly relate to the task of transporting fruit. On the other hand, the driver may have needed caffeine to stay alert while completing the job.
Only in the latter case could you obtain damages from the fruit company.
But what if the driver decided to stop along the way to watch his daughter’s soccer game?
Sometimes referred to as a frolic, this would be a more major departure from the employer’s assigned task.
Because the agent is doing this task for his own benefit—wholly unrelated to his job—the law most likely would not hold the principal accountable for the agent’s negligence on the way to the soccer game.
Employers also are not liable under the vicarious liability rule when employees commit intentional torts.
For example, if the commercial truck chased you for several miles before running your car off the road, only the driver would be accountable.
Why Does Colorado Apply a Vicarious Liability Rule?
Vicarious liability makes sense for several reasons.
First and foremost, Colorado wants to ensure that when its citizens are victims of negligence, they can recover sufficient compensation to offset their expenses.
Most people also generally agree that employers should pay for damages caused by their employees when those staff members are following orders.
Finally, companies that hire workers are more likely to carry insurance.
As a result, a victim has a much better chance of recovering compensation from the supervising entity than from the individual employee.
If You Have Been in an Accident with a Semi or Other Commercial Truck, the Tenge Law Firm, LLC Can Help
We know these accidents can be much more devastating than fender benders with automobiles.
If you have lost a loved one or are facing massive medical bills and lengthy recovery from a truck accident, contact us today for a free consultation.
We treat our clients like family members and provide concierge-level legal services. Let us help you recover the compensation you need and deserve.