Third Party Liability In Car Crashes
An estimated 14 percent of Louisiana drivers are uninsured, and this figure is well above the national average. On top of that, there are a significant number of under-insured drivers, because the state minimum is only $15,000 per person in bodily injury coverage and $25,000 in property damage coverage.
Fortunately, in many such cases, there may be a responsible third party in addition to the tortfeasor (negligent driver), so victims can more easily obtain fair compensation for their injuries.
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior (“let the master answer”), employers are legally responsible for the damages caused by their negligent employees. There are two elements in this doctrine, and courts interpret both of them in broad ways that favor victims.
First, the tortfeasor must be an employee, and this term has a different meaning in negligence cases than it does for other purposes, such as income tax. In car crash cases, many courts use the Department of Labor’s definition, which is “suffer or permit to work.” Under this standard, independent contractors, interns, and even unpaid volunteers are “employees,” because the terms of compensation are not part of the equation.
Some other courts look to the degree of control that the boss has over the worker to determine of the worker is an employee. As a rule of thumb, if the boss dictates the hours, location, or manner of work, the person is an employee.
Second, for respondeat superior to apply, the employee must be acting within the course and scope of employment at the time of the car crash or other event. A few courts have a limited view; for example, they only view delivery drivers who are on their routes as acting within the course and scope of employment. But most courts follow the rule that any work that benefits the employer in any way meets this standard. So, driving a private automobile that has the company’s logo on it is acting within the course and scope of employment, as is playing in a company softball game while wearing a company uniform.
The employer may have a defense to respondeat superior if the employee committed an illegal act before the crash, like breaking into the motor pool and stealing a truck.
Louisiana is a modified joint and several liability state, which means that if there are multiple defendants (like a tortfeasor and a third party), each defendant is only responsible for his or her share of the damages, and the jury normally determines that division.
Because of respondeat superior and other third party theories, the negligent driver may not be the only party that is responsible for the plaintiff’s damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. We do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury cases.