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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Real Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 23609
Experience:  JA Mentor
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An employee hit a 3rd party with a company car after drinking

Customer Question

An employee hit a 3rd party with a company car after drinking and now he and the company are being sued. Explain the theory of law that would allow the third party injured in the auto accident to make a claim against the Lending Store, Inc. for damages. Include in your explanation the applicability of this general theory of law to the facts of this particular case.
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Real Estate Law
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 3 years ago.

My name is Lucy and I'd be happy to answer your questions today.

Under the theory of respondeat superior, or vicarious liability, an employer may be held responsible for the torts of an employee that occur within the scope of his duties. Typically, however, if the employee was off-duty, the employer can argue that the employee was not acting within the scope of his duties at the time of the collision. In this case, the employer will also, presumably, be able to argue that drinking and driving was not within the scope of the employee's duties. If the accident occurred after the employee's normal business hours, that would support Lending Store's case. So, the Lending Store may not be liable on that theory.

However, as the owner of the vehicle, the Lending Company can still be held liable for damages caused by the company car. In an automobile accident, the injured party can recover damages either from the driver, who caused the accident, or the owner, for giving the car to the driver. If there is any evidence at all that the company knew or should have known that the employee was likely to drink and drive, or should not be trusted with the vehicle for some other reason, Lending Store could be liable on a theory of negligent entrustment. So, the company may be liable, even if the employee wasn't acting on behalf of the company at the time.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Explain the defenses the company could possibly assert against this third party’s lawsuit. the applicability of these legal defenses to the facts of this particular case.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 3 years ago.
That's all included in the Answer - the company is going to argue that the employee was not acting within the scope of his duties, and they very well will win on that theory.

For negligent entrust, they would have to argue that there was no evidence that the employee couldn't be trusted with the vehicle, and nothing to suggest that they should have known that he was likely to drink and drive. The success of such an argument would depend on a lot of facts that aren't in the question, like whether the employee had a history of drinking and driving or drug or alcohol abuse, or what his driving record looked like. If the company didn't check any of that, then that could support a negligent entrustment finding.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
While driving a company car with the Lending Store, Inc. logo printed on the side of the vehicle, this employee was involved in an auto accident. The driver of the other vehicle was seriously injured. The employee admits he purposely hit the other car when this driver shouted negative comments to him about the Lending Store apparently after seeing the company’s name on the vehicle. The employee also admits he had been drinking alcoholic beverages during his lunch hour in violation of company policy. He was on his way home when the accident occurred. The driver of the other vehicle files a lawsuit demanding reimbursement for medical bills and One Million Dollars in “other” damages.

What decision do you believe the court would most likely come to with regard to the claims for damages made by the injured driver against the employee and the company? Explain the legal rationale for each decision.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 3 years ago.
If the employee intentionally hit the other driver, that's battery. Because battery is an intentional tort, the judge can award punitive damages at his discretion. Trying to run someone over with a car is pretty egregious, so the judge could feasibly order a large judgment against the employee, in addition to the cost of his medical bills and time missed from work. Usually, with these types of damages awards, the judge will impose enough that the defendant will feel it, because punitive damages are meant to punish.

Typically, intentional courts are held to be outside the scope of an employee's duties. The employee wasn't asked to intentionally drive into the other vehicle. So, with these different facts, the employer would probably not be responsible, unless there's some evidence that they should have foreseen that this would happen, which goes back to negligent entrustment.

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