Third Party Liability In Negligence Cases
A strong evidentiary and legal case may not be enough to obtain compensation for injuries in a car crash case, because the defendant must also have the ability to pay damages. Solvency is often an issue in Louisiana, because the number of uninsured drivers is significantly above the national average. There are also thousands of under-insured motorists, because the state only requires $15,000 of personal injury and $25,000 of property damage protection. In a serious wreck, these amounts may not be enough to fully compensate the plaintiff. Fortunately, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) may not be the only party that is liable for damages.
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for “let the master answer”) employers are responsible for the negligence of their employees. In addition to car crash cases, this doctrine also comes into play in medical negligence and nursing home abuse cases that involve negligent medical professionals or other caregivers.
For liability to attach to a third party, the tortfeasor must be an employee. In negligence cases, most courts use the Department of Labor’s definition for “employ,” which is “suffer or permit to work.” This phrase focuses on the amount of control that the employer exercises over the tortfeasor. Accordingly, independent contractors, offsite workers, interns, and even unpaid volunteers are usually employees for negligence purposes. Employers have few defenses in this area, because most all bosses give at least some direction to their workers, whether it be dictating the hours they work, the manner in which the work is done, or their performance deadlines.
The second prong is course and scope of employment. Courts interpret this phrase very broadly, and in most cases, any effort that benefits the employer in any way is considered to be within the course and scope of employment. Therefore, in addition to delivery drivers and long haul truckers, employees who drive vehicles that have the company’s logo are acting within the course and scope of employment. It is a defense if the worker committed an illegal act, such as stealing a company motor vehicle from the parking lot.
At Hoffoss Devall, we are committed to maximum recovery for injury victims. For a free consultation with an experienced Lake Charles personal injury lawyer, contact us today. We do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury cases.