When employees cause car accidents while on the job, their employers might have liability for their negligent acts or omissions under the legal principle of respondeat superior. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that the respondeat superior doctrine holds employers responsible for employees’ actions.
However, for the employer to have the responsibility, the court must consider the act to occur during employment. This means the employer must authorize the action or be closely related to an authorized act.
Frolic versus detour
Courts distinguish between two situations to determine whether an employer should be responsible. One is a detour, and the other is a frolic. A detour is a deviation from explicit instructions. However, it is still related to the original instructions such that the employer can be held responsible. A frolic is when the employee acts in their capacity, not at the authorization of their employer.
Personal use of company vehicle
For instance, if a company loans its sales staff vehicles to make sales calls, and an employee drives to a bar for personal reasons and hits a pedestrian, the employer will likely not be held responsible. This is because the employee used the car for personal reasons, not business purposes.
Company endorsed use of vehicle
However, if the same employee takes a client out for dinner and drinks as part of doing business and hits a pedestrian on the way home, the employer would likely have responsibility. This is because the employer encouraged the employee to take clients out for food and drinks as part of their job.
When an employee is intoxicated, the employer’s liability becomes more ambiguous. If the employer warns their employee against intoxication, the employer may not have liability. However, if the employer had encouraged the employee to drink and drive, the employer would likely be held responsible.