Respondeat Superior: Holding an Employer Liable for the Negligent Actions of an Employee

In many accidents, the responsible party may be working when the accident occurs. For example, a truck driver may cause an accident while en route to the delivery location. In these cases, an injured party may actually have a case against not just the at-fault party but also the employer through a legal doctrine called “respondeat superior.”

Kitchen KnifeRespondeat superior is a Latin term that translates as “let the master answer.” The doctrine stands for the idea that an employer should be liable for the negligent actions of an employee if the negligence occurs when the employee is in the course of carrying out a duty that is related to his employment. It is a form of vicarious liability, under which a third party is held liable for the actions of another party. This is very important for accident victims, since it may provide an additional party that can cover the financial costs of any injuries sustained in the accident.

However, not all accidents can be attributed to the at-fault party’s employer. In order for the doctrine to apply, the employee must be an actual employee, rather than an independent contractor. Furthermore, the alleged act of negligence must have occurred while the employee was engaged in a work-related activity. This concept is explained in a recent case that was decided by a California appellate court.

Jorge v. Culinary Institute of America:  The Facts

Da Fonseca struck and killed Jorge on his way home from work. Da Fonseca was employed by the defendant as a chef instructor. His main duties were on-campus, but he would also do some consulting work off-campus, and depending on how far away the consulting location was, Da Fonseca may have received compensation for his travel.

On the night of the fatal accident, Da Fonseca was coming home from a regular day of work on-campus. He had his chef knives and chef jacket with him in the car. At some point on his way home, he fatally struck Jorge.

Jorge’s family filed a wrongful death claim against Da Fonseca and the defendant. Da Fonseca settled the case against him, and the case proceeded against the defendant only. After a jury trial, Jorge’s family was awarded $885,000. However, the defendant appealed, arguing that the doctrine of respondeat superior did not apply because Da Fonseca was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

The court agreed with the defendant and reversed the jury’s verdict. The court explained that as a general rule, the “going and coming” rule dictates that an employee is not acting within the scope of his employment if he is commuting to and from work. The court explained that the general rule may not apply if the employer requires that the employee bring his own vehicle, or the vehicle is made available for the employer to use. However, the facts did not indicate that was the case here. As a result, the court determined that Da Fonseca was not acting within the scope of his employment, and the Culinary Institute should not be held liable for his negligent actions in causing the accident.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland truck or car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Regardless of whether you think the at-fault driver was acting as an employee at the time of the accident, it is important to discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney to make sure that you name all potentially liable defendants as early as possible. The skilled injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC help clients across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. hold responsible parties liable for the harm they have caused. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

The Importance of Naming All Potentially Liable Parties in a Personal Injury Lawsuit, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published September 6, 2016.

Court Affirms Jury’s Defense Verdict in Low-Speed Rear-End Collision, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published September 20, 2016.

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