Earlier this month, a New York appellate court issued a written opinion in an interesting case discussing when an employer may be held liable for the negligent actions of an employee. In the case, Fountain v. Karim, the court determined that the lower court failed to make a necessary factual determination and sent the case back to the lower court to conduct further analysis. The question the lower court must answer is whether the employer had given the employee express permission to use the car that was involved in the accident.
Karim was a government employee temporarily assigned to an office several hours away from his home. Karim would stay in a government-provided hotel room during the week and would travel home for the weekend. During the week, Karim was allowed to use a government vehicle for his work-related travels, a Ford Explorer. However, on the weekends, Karim would normally drive his own car back home, leaving the work vehicle at the office. If Karim wanted to use the Explorer for his personal use, he would submit a request to his supervisor. Several of these requests were retroactively approved, meaning Karim did not submit a prior written request but obtained permission after he had returned the car.
On August 31, 2010, Karim was preparing to leave for a work trip to another office 100 miles away. Before he left, Karim submitted a request to take the vehicle, but he did not get a response. Karim was planning on taking the Ford Explorer to his hotel, where he would stay the night, and then take the vehicle to the remote office 100 miles away.