Vicarious Liability in Car Accident When At-Fault Driver is On-the-Job

A local auto dealership may be facing a vicarious liability lawsuit soon, following a tragic car accident in Delray Beach in which a mechanic behind the wheel lost control of the car and smashed into a motorcycle, fatally injuring one of the riders. driver1

According to The Sun-Sentinel, the Ed Morse Toyota Scion, which is part of the larger Ed Morse Automotive Group, offered condolences to the family of the decedent, a Canadian woman who was the rear passenger of the bike.

Police with the Delray Beach department allege that a mechanic for the auto dealership was speeding along Dixie Highway when he reportedly lost control of the vehicle, a 2002 Lexus sedan. He was reportedly test-driving the vehicle. 

A press release sent out by authorities indicate witnesses told investigators that the Lexus driver was traveling at a “very high rate of speed.” It was about 3:30 p.m., and traffic was heavier than usual. The driver reportedly had a close call with another car and swerved to avoid impact. That’s when he collided with the motorcycle, a Honda Goldwing.

Both the male driver and the female passenger were transported to the local hospital as trauma alerts. Both suffered critical injuries, and the woman was soon after pronounced dead.

As of this writing, authorities haven’t released the identities of those involved, except to say that the pair on the motorcycle were visiting from Canada.

The dealership issued a statement saying it extends sympathy and prayers to those involved in the crash. The statement stopped short, however, of an apology or conceding any wrongdoing by the company or the employee.

That was to be expected, though it does not mean the company won’t be held responsible through vicarious liability. That means even if the dealership itself didn’t do anything wrong, it can be made responsible to pay for damages caused by the negligence of its employee. The idea stems from the legal doctrine of respondeat superior, Latin for “let the master answer.” So if the worker is engaged in an activity that furthers the goal of the employer, the employer can be held responsible because it exercises a degree of control over the actions of the employee.

What is not totally clear at this point in the Delray Beach car accident is whether the mechanic was on-the-job at the time of the crash. If he was test-driving the vehicle for purposes of buying one for his own personal use, it is possible the courts may not agree with an allegation of vicarious liability by the employer because he would have been acting in his capacity as an individual, as opposed to an employee. However, if he was “test-driving” the vehicle in the course and scope of his employment (i.e., to test whether certain features were working properly), then absolutely, the legal theory of vicarious liability would be applicable.

Also in this situation, the employer – as the owner of the vehicle – might be found vicariously liable on that fact alone because motor vehicles in Florida are considered dangerous instrumentalities. This assertion would likely apply regardless of whether the employee was working at the time of the crash, so long as he had the dealership’s permission to operate the vehicle.

Additionally, the employer could be found directly negligent with assertions of:

  • Negligent hiring or retention;
  • Negligent supervision;
  • Negligent entrustment.

It’s important to explore these options too because vicarious liability is capped per F.S. 324.021.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Canadian woman killed after mechanic on test drive collides with motorcycle; dealership expresses condolences, April 7, 2016, By Kate Jacobson, Sun-Sentinel

More Blog Entries:

De La Torre v. Gallardo – Florida Dram Shop Law, April 5, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog