The negligent driver may not be the only person responsible for your injuries in a serious car crash. There may be third party liability elements to your claim. If you were hurt in a wreck with a delivery truck, eighteen-wheeler, tour bus, taxicab, or any other commercial vehicle, the negligent driver’s employer may be vicariously liable. Respondeat Superior, or “let the master answer,” can be a very important tool for a plaintiff’s lawyer, especially if the driver was uninsured or underinsured.
The theory behind respondeat superior is that an employee is an agent of an employer, and since the employer controls the time, place, and manner of doing work, the employer should also be responsible for any torts.
Elements of a Claim
Texas courts have consistently held that, in order for respondeat superior to apply, employees must be acting within the course and scope of employment when the accident took place. Specifically, a negligent worker must be acting:
- Within Authority: The employees must be working in the assigned area and on assigned duties, and if applicable, with assigned equipment, when the tort occurred.
- In Furtherance of Employer’s Business: Most normal activities, including pickups, drop-offs, and sales calls, are all clearly in furtherance of the employer’s business. Texas also recognizes “logo liability” or “placard liability” in most cases, which means that respondeat superior presumptively applies if the vehicle has any commercial signage.
- For a Specific Purpose: In other words, salespeople must be selling, delivery drivers must be delivering, and so on.
If respondeat superior applies, the employer may be responsible for both economic and non-economic damages.
- While the driver is on a normal route, a delivery truck runs a stop sign and smashes into a car that was legally in the intersection.
Respondeat superior clearly applies in this situation.
- A delivery driver gets lost on a new route, does not pay attention to the road while looking at street signs or a GPS device, and rear-ends a stopped car.
The defendant may argue that the driver was not acting “within authority” since the truck was not on its proper delivery route, but a court would probably reject that defense.
- A delivery driver goes off-route to pick up a friend at the airport, fails to yield to merging traffic, and sideswipes another vehicle.
Unless the employer knew about, and approved, the driver’s conduct, or the driver was only a few minutes or a few blocks off schedule, respondeat superior probably does not apply.
A third-party liability theory may apply in almost any car crash. For a free consultation with a knowledgeable New Braunfels personal injury attorney, contact our office. Mr. Bettersworth has years of experience.