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Palmdale Personal Injury Lawyer / Blog / Car Accident / When Is a California Employer Liable for an Employee’s Car Accident?

When Is a California Employer Liable for an Employee’s Car Accident?


There is often more than one person or legal entity who can be held responsible for a car accident. Obviously, the negligent driver is liable. But if the driver was acting within the “scope of their employment” at the time of the accident, then the driver’s employer can also be held responsible for the victim’s legal damages. For example, if you are struck by a driver making a delivery for their employer, then you could sue both the driver and the employer for compensation.

Jury Finds Auto Dealership Liable for Fatal Crash

Determining when an employee acts within the “scope of employment” is often a trickier question than people realize. As a general rule, an employer is not liable for an employee who causes an accident while commuting to or from work. But if the employee is performing a “special errand” for their employer while commuting, an accident that occurs while running said errand may be within the scope of employment.

A recent decision from the California Second District Court of Appeals, Schweissinger v. Dodge, provides a real-world example. This case involves a wrongful death claim arising from a fatal car accident. The victim was struck and killed by a vehicle operated by an employee of the defendant, an auto dealership. The negligent driver was a commission-based salesperson for the defendant.

On the day of the fatal accident, the salesperson was spending his day off at the beach when a co-worker called him. The co-worker said that one of the salesperson’s customers was at the dealership and ready to buy a car. The salesperson decided to head to the dealership and close the deal himself, since it meant a bigger commission than if he allowed another salesman to do so. It was while the salesperson drove to the dealership that he struck and killed the victim.

The defense conceded the salesperson’s negligence caused the victim’s death. But the dealership maintained that since the salesperson was simply commuting to work, he was not acting within the scope of his employment. The jury disagreed and held the dealership was legally liable for the fatal accident.

On appeal, the Second District upheld the jury’s verdict. Based on the evidence, the appeals court said the jury acted within its discretion when it found the salesperson performed a “special errand” when the accident occurred. The Court noted that while the dealership did formally require its salespeople to come in on their days off duties, it did “incentivize” such behavior. Notably, the dealership trained its sales force to see a deal through to the end and offered higher commissions for doing so.

Contact a Palmdale Car Accident Lawyer Today

In seeking compensation following an auto accident, it is important to properly investigate and consider the potential liability of all parties who may be involved. An experienced Palmdale car accident attorney can advise you further in this area. Contact the Trevino Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients in Palmdale, Lancaster, Littlerock, and Lake Los Angeles.



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