There are many situations in which a worker’s operation of an employer-owned vehicle will automatically place the company in a position of liability. This is especially true in Florida, where motor vehicles are considered “dangerous instruments,” and merely entrusting it to another who acts negligently can mean some degree of responsibility.
However, the recent case of Travelers Property Casualty Co. v. Moore, et al. illustrates that this extension of liability is not limitless. While our Broward County car accident attorneys would point out the circumstances in this situation were exceptional, and involved an alleged intentional tort, the case does show how the details of employment law can factor in to an injury case.
Here, the case started with two vehicles, side-by-side in a driveway. One was the personal vehicle of the resident, and the other was a van owned by his employer that he used for work. On the day in question, two tow truck operators arrived at the man’s residence to repossess his personal vehicle. The man was upset. After speaking to him briefly, the two truck workers began to hitch up the personal vehicle to the tow apparatus.
The resident then emerged with a shotgun, and fired several rounds into the air. The tow truck operators, fearing for their lives, got into to the tow truck and drove away. The resident grabbed the keys to his work van and followed, firing several shots along the way.
The end result was that both tow truck drivers were shot, one fatally. The vehicle owner forced the surviving driver to unhitch his vehicle and then sped away in it.
Several questions arose in the aftermath. The first was whether the driver had permission to drive the work vehicle, in which case he would be covered under his employer’s insurance policy for any “accidents” occurring behind the wheel. And the second was whether the gunshots could be considered “accidents,” per the terms of the policy, as it was asserted the resident hadn’t intended to actually strike the two truck drivers, only to scare them. The fatal shot delivered was reportedly a result of the driver hitting a bump in the road while his finger was on the shotgun trigger.
The driver was later arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
But questioned remained as it pertained to the civil case, brought by the surviving tow truck driver and the widow of the deceased worker. The trial court found that, indeed, the gun-toting resident did have permission to drive the work van. Even though the work policy barred employees from using company vehicles for personal use, this worker did so regularly and was not rebuked for it. From there, the court found the gunshots amounted to a compensable “accident,” because the death and bodily injury caused were “not expected or intended by the insured,” per the terms of the employer’s auto insurance policy.
The employer’s insurance company appealed, and the case was heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. That court reversed, finding the company made a clear case of showing the worker did not have permission to use the van for non-work purposes, especially not to carry out a felonious attack. With that point settled, the issue of whether the shooting was an “accident” per the terms of the policy was moot.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Travelers Property Casualty Co. v. Moore, et al., Aug. 14, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
More Blog Entries:
Valedez v. Watkins Motor Lines – Zero Fault Verdict in Crash Case Reversed by Federal Appeals Court, Aug. 8, 2014, Broward County Crash Lawyer Blog