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Read these hypothetical examples of workplace accidents where employer liability is more difficult to determine than you might think.
Q. Edward Employee was on his way to work one day, but stopped on the way to have breakfast at a local coffee shop. While at Cathy’s Coffee Shop, he tripped and fell, fracturing his ankle on a piece of broken concrete installed by Cam the Concrete Contractor. Cathy knew about the broken concrete but failed to put any warning signs on the property. Who is at fault?
A. In this case, Edward’s employment has nothing to do with the situation so even though he was on his way to work, his employer was not liable. Cathy was aware of the concrete and had a duty to make her property safe for customers. By failing to put hazard signs and warn her customers of the danger, Cathy was liable for Edward’s injury. Cam the Contractor also had a duty to install the concrete at the level of workmanship and quality of contractors in his area. Leaving a broken piece of concrete in an area frequented by customers is clearly negligent. Therefore the
contractor would be liable as well.
Q. Edward Employee was at work when his boss asked him to go to Paula’s Print Shop to pick up an order. Edward obliged and on his way back to his office from Paula’s Print, he took a slight detour to his girlfriend’s office to bring her lunch. Edward was struck by a speeding car in the parking lot of her office. Who is at liable?
A. In this case, Edward Employee was performing a task for his employer so, at first it might appear that he was working within the scope of his employment. But because Edward was on a detour from the scope of his employment when injured, no employer liability exists. The fact that Edward’s girlfriend asked him to come to her office does not give rise to liability. This was a request which Edward could have refused. The only liable party is the negligent driver who was speeding in the parking lot.
Q. Assume the same scenario above, except that instead of the detour to his girlfriends’ office, Edward was struck in the parking lot of Paula’s Print Shop while walking to his car. Who is liable?
A. In this case, Edward Employee was performing a task at the request of his employer and within the scope of employment. Therefore, the employer would be liable for his negligence under the theory of vicarious liability as well as within the worker’s compensation system which compensates workers for injuries that occur on the job. The driver is also liable and would likely share or apportion fault.
Q. Edward Employee left his office early for a three day weekend. While driving home he received a call from his co-worker, Ellen, explaining that she had an emergency print job that needed to be picked up. Ellen asked if Edward would pick it up for her because she was afraid she would get fired if it was not in the boss’s office by 6:00 p.m. Edward agreed, and on his way back to the office, he ran a red light and struck a pedestrian in a cross walk. Who is at fault?
A. In this case, Edward’s employer knew nothing about the arrangement between Edward and Ellen, did not request it and it was not within the scope of Edward’s employment, so no employer liability exists. Ellen requested a favor of Edward, but favors don’t necessarily give rise to liability. Pedestrians have the right of way when walking in a crosswalk, so of course a pedestrian is not liable. Edward was negligent when he ran the red light and struck the pedestrian, so in this case he is solely liable for what occurred.
Q. Edward Employee was at work when he got an emergency call from his roommate regarding a fire in their apartment . Edward left work without notifying anyone, but on the way to his apartment he remembered that he needed to stop and pick up a print job he had forgotten. As he turned to go to the print shop, he was struck by an on-coming truck owned by Travis Trucking Company. Tom the truck driver was intoxicated at the time he hit Edward. Who is liable?
A. Edward was on his way to a print shop to pick up a print job for work; however, he started off going to his apartment to investigate a fire. Therefore, it is likely that Edward was outside the scope of his employment and his employer would not be liable. Next, we look at Travis Trucking Company. When an employee injures another in the scope of their employment, the employer is liable. But Tom the truck driver was intoxicated, which many jurisdictions view as an exception to vicarious liability, so it’s unlikely that the trucking company would be liable. Tom would be liable because drunk driving is negligence per se as well as criminal conduct.
Q. What if in the above scenario, Travis Trucking Company knew of Tom’s drinking problem, was aware that he had multiple DUI’s, and had given Tom multiple written warnings about drinking and driving while on the job? Who is at fault?
A. When they know an employee is dangerous and do nothing to deter it, the company is now liable under such theories as negligent supervision and negligent hiring.
As you can see, the more complicated the situation, the more difficult the question of “Who is liable?” can be to answer. A skilled personal injury attorney can navigate these complicated fact patterns, taking out the guesswork for injured victims.
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