Can an Employer be Held Liable for an Employee’s Negligent Driving that Causes an Accident?

Charles S. Philips
Law Office of Charles S. Philips, PLLC
injurylaw@chuckphilips.com
727-494-2008
www.chuckphilips.com

 

In Florida, an employer can be held liable for the negligent actions of its employees while driving a company vehicle, the employer's personal vehicle, or the employee's personal vehicle while performing work for the employer, such as running errands for the company. The employee's negligent actions can be imputed to the employer and is called vicarious liability. If the injured party can show that the employee was in the course and scope of their employment when they caused the accident, then the employer can be sued for that employee's actions. Furthermore, if the injured party can prove that the employee was required to drive in a negligent manner by the employer to provide a certain level of service to their customers, then the employer could possibly be subject to punitive, or punishment damages. An example of this would be where a food delivery driver is required by the employer to deliver food in a fast and reckless manner, otherwise the food would be free to the customer and in doing so causes a collision attributed to speeding.

Oftentimes, employers will hire someone as an independent contractor in an effort to create a layer of protection for themselves. The employer does this in an effort to create separation between themselves and the negligent driver who is performing work for the employer. This type of alleged relationship must be thoroughly investigated to determine if the alleged independent contractor was truly acting independently or was being treated more like an employee by the employer. Another type of employer relationship that should be investigated thoroughly is one where a franchisee employer has an employee that negligently causes a collision while driving on behalf of that employer. The franchisor could have imputed liability in this situation as well if proper training and safeguards were not in place in the franchisee and franchisor relationship. For example, in Parker v. Domino's Pizza, 629 So.2d 1026 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) the plaintiffs were harmed as a result of an accident caused by a delivery driver employed by the franchisee of Domino's. It is well established that an employer can be vicariously liable for their employee's negligent actions while driving. In this particular case the franchisee was held liable for the delivery driver's negligent actions in causing the plaintiff's injuries. The plaintiff also argued that Domino's was vicariously liable for the injuries caused by the delivery driver as well because of the control that they exercised over the franchisee as indicated by the training manual that the franchisee was required to follow by Domino's. The appellate court held that the operating manual that Domino's provided to the franchisee for overseeing a Domino's operation contained "prescriptions for every conceivable facet of the business”, and thus Domino's retained a high degree of control over the franchisee and therefore the franchisee could be considered an agent of Domino's. Thus, the appellate court held that Domino's could be found liable for the delivery driver's actions.

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