Most Americans will be involved at least one auto accident in their lifetimes, and the average person will be involved in three or four. Car accidents can happen while driving a private vehicle, but they can just as easily happen in a company vehicle. Accidents that happen in a company vehicle are a little more complicated, however, and those involved should always consult with a skilled and knowledgeable attorney to discuss their legal options.
Employer Liability for Company Vehicle Crashes
In a large number of cases, an accident involving an employee driving a company vehicle would be the responsibility of the employer. The liability coverage in the employer’s insurance policy should extend to employees, and this is something you will want to double check because there could be contract language that makes you liable for any accidents in that vehicle.
It is important to note that the employer’s liability coverage would likely only be applicable to crashes that occur while company drivers are working in the scope of their employment. Their insurance would probably not cover accidents that happen when the employee is “off the clock”.
For example, if a salesperson is driving a company vehicle to a sales appointment and gets into an accident, the employer’s insurer would most likely cover the accident and pay damages to the other driver if the salesperson was at fault. But if this same salesperson was finished with work for the day and driving the vehicle home when the accident occurred, the employee might be personally responsible.
There are some other circumstances in which an employee would most likely be responsible for a crash with a company vehicle:
- Illegal Activity: You meet up with a client for lunch at a local restaurant/bar. You order a few drinks after lunch, and by the time you head back to the office, you are driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that is above the legal limit. If you were to get into an accident while driving drunk, the employer’s insurer would probably refuse to cover it.
- Personal use During Business Hours: You and some coworkers decide to take an extended lunch hour and do some shopping at the mall. While looking for a parking spot at the mall, you bump into a pedestrian who was walking back to his car. Even if this occurs during business hours, if you were doing personal business, you may be personally liable for any accidents and injuries you cause.
- Other Non-Business Activity: As we talked about earlier, you are probably not covered for accidents that occur when you are using the vehicle off hours for non-business activity. This might include commuting to or from work, using the vehicle to take a trip to the beach on the weekend, or any other activity that is outside the scope of your employment.
Who Pays for the Injuries the Employee Sustains during a Company Vehicle Crash?
What if the employee who is driving the company vehicle gets hurt in a crash while “on the clock”? Work related injuries that the employee sustains should be covered by the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.
Workers’ comp covers reasonable and necessary medical expenses, a percentage of lost wages, and some other related costs. This is usually the first place an employee would go for reimbursement if they sustain injuries from an auto accident.
If the vehicle crash was caused by another driver and/or it is the fault a third party, then the employee may be able to file a personal injury claim directly against the responsible party. When this is the case, an employee can recover damages not only for direct monetary losses such as medical bills and lost earnings, but also for intangible losses such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and psychological distress.
Examples of third parties that could be at fault for a company vehicle accident include:
- A cargo/shipping company that may have overloaded or improperly loaded the vehicle (this happens most often with large commercial trucks).
- The party that is responsible for maintaining the vehicle.
- The party that is responsible for maintaining the roadways.
- The manufacturer, supplier, or distributor of a faulty vehicle or vehicle part.
A thorough investigation is necessary to determine the root cause of the accident and what party (or parties) are at fault. This should be done as soon as possible in order to preserve critical evidence and put together the strongest possible claim.
Contact a Seasoned Birmingham, AL Auto Accident Attorney
Accidents with company vehicles are not usually simple and straightforward cases. If this has happened to you or a loved one, it is very important to consult with an experienced attorney to find out what your legal rights and options are. If the accident occurred in Alabama, Burge & Burge is here to help. Message us online or call our office today at 205-251-9000 for a free consultation and case assessment.