Vicarious liability is the legal means by which we can pursue action against a vehicle owner or an employer for the negligent and injurious actions of those driving their vehicle or employees acting on behalf of the company. It’s not just long-haul truckers who fall into this category.
Recently, DNCE singer Joe Jonas was named a defendant in a car accident lawsuit that occurred when his assistant was driving his vehicle in Hollywood, CA. According to TMZ, plaintiff alleges the assistant made a left turn into an intersection, t-boning plaintiff, who had the right-of-way. There was no police report filed and there were reportedly no witnesses, but the plaintiff did take down the license plate number, which her injury attorney later traced back to Jonas. The assistant gave her name as the driver, though it’s unclear if Jonas was in the car at the time.
But even if Jonas wasn’t there, he could still be liable because not only was the vehicle his, but the person driving it was reportedly acting in the course and scope of employment. Both situations would fall under the umbrella of vicarious liability. She is seeking damages for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses and lost wages.
Here in Florida, the concept of vicarious liability has been well-established since the 1920 Florida Supreme Court case of Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, wherein justices held that a vehicle owner is liable without fault for damages when someone negligently operates his or her vehicle with consent. (Negligent operation of a stolen vehicle wouldn’t count.) It should be noted that F.S.325.021(9)(b)(3) caps the amount of damages one can collect for this type of vicarious liability, up to $100,000 per person, $500,000 per accident (for bodily injury) and up to $50,000 for property damage. That’s still in excess of Florida’s minimum auto insurance rates.
There is also a potential claim for directly negligence on the theory of negligent entrustment. That is, the owner of the vehicle is independently at fault for granting consent to another to operate the vehicle knowing that person is likely to use it in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others (i.e., due to inexperience, a prior history of drunk driving or a record of careless operation) may be liable for any resulting physical harm. This claim would not be limited to the arbitrary damage caps.
Then there is vicarious liability of an employer for an employee’s actions. First, one needs to establish that the negligent driver was in fact an employee (as opposed to an independent contractor). Generally speaking, an independent contractor controls the means and methods of accomplishing the results of the work, which the company only controls the result. This “right to control” is a critical element. Once that is established (and it may not be contested), one must then show that the driver was negligent (i.e., breached a duty of care to operate the vehicle safely) and that this breach proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries. Finally, we need to show the negligent driver was acting in the course and scope of employment. This term is used a lot in workers’ compensation law, but it’s relevant in these cases too. This type of liability is allowable under the doctrine of respondeat superior, which is Latin for “let the master answer.”
To determine the answer to this, we will ask:
- Was the conduct of the kind the employee is hired to perform?
- Did the conduct occur substantially within the space/ time limits authorized or required by the work to be performed?
- Was the conduct spurred at least in part by a purpose to serve the business?
If the assistant in the Jonas case was simply driving his vehicle back to her house to retire for the night, it’s possible defendant could argue against a finding of vicarious liability. However, if Jonas was in the back seat and the assistant was chauffeuring him, then likely respondeat superior/ vicarious liability would apply.
Every circumstance is going to be different from the next, so it’s important to consult with an experienced Orlando car accident attorney.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
JOE JONAS Sued for Car Accident YOUR ASSISTANT WRECKED ME!!!, Feb. 27, 2018, TMZ
More Blog Entries:
Shoddy Repair of a Vehicle Traps Couple in Fiery Crash, Jury Awards $42 Million, Feb. 28, 2018, Orlando Car Accident Lawyer Blog