In Alabama, as in most other states, employers can be held liable for the negligence of their employees, pursuant to the doctrine of “vicarious liability.” For example, if you are injured in a car accident involving a company car being driven by an employee, then it’s highly likely that you will be entitled to sue and recover damages from the employer, too.
The doctrine of vicarious liability is unique in that it is not an independent injury claim brought against the defendant-employer. Vicarious liability simply attaches the liability of the employee to their employer. As such, there are no “additional” damages to be obtained through vicarious liability.
Why bother with arguing for vicarious liability?
Application of vicarious liability can be hugely beneficial to certain plaintiffs, depending on the circumstances. Generally speaking, vicarious liability is most useful in circumstances where the defendant-employee does not have sufficient insurance (or other personal assets) to cover the damages owed. In such cases, being able to sue and recover damages from the employer gives the plaintiff an opportunity to “reach into the pockets” of a party that is much more likely to have significant insurance coverage and assets.
For example, suppose that you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by an employee of a small company. You suffered losses totaling about $250,000. The employee does not have independent car insurance or liability insurance, nor do they have substantial personal assets to cover your losses. If you sue the employer pursuant to vicarious liability, however, you may be able to recover fully, as the employer has up to $1M in liability insurance coverage.
Vicarious liability is also useful strategically in the sense that it may increase the likelihood of a favorable settlement compromise. Companies rely on their brand, and want to avoid bad press, generally speaking. By suing the company pursuant to vicarious liability, you may find that the company is willing to negotiate a reasonable settlement in order to avoid the possibility of a protracted lawsuit.
Vicarious liability is not applicable in all situations, however. In Alabama, vicarious liability will only apply if you can show that: 1) the employer had control over the employee, and 2) the employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment. Both are fact-based considerations.
Whether the employer had control is dependent on the ability of the employer to supervise the employee and direct them to various tasks. If an employer did not have sufficient control over the employee (i.e., the employee was in such a position where they could select their job duties without employer supervision), then they cannot be held vicariously liable for the employee’s negligent acts.
An employer can only be held vicariously liable if you can show that their negligent employee was acting within the “course and scope” of their employment at the time of the accident. This can be quite challenging. Whether conduct falls within the “course and scope” of employment is ultimately dependent on the duties of the employee (pertaining to their employment) and whether they were engaged in conduct that was intended to further some legitimate business purpose.
So, for example, if an employer asks their employee to attend a sales conference in the city with a company car — even if such attendance was not in their normal job duties — they would be acting within the course and scope of their employment. Any negligence-based accident that occurs in that period of time (while going to or attending the conference) will give rise to employer liability.
Critically, Alabama law does not allow employers to be held liable for the intentional misconduct of their employees. Employers are not guarantors of safety. If an employee attacks a third-party without warning, then the employer cannot be held vicariously liable (unless they encouraged or directed such conduct, of course).
Here at Cross & Smith, our attorneys have several decades of experience aggressively litigating claims on behalf of our injured clients, helping them to secure favorable verdicts and settlements in a range of personal injury litigation.
We understand that litigation can be complicated by various liabilities issues, such as the existence of an employer-employee relationship, and our commitment to thorough representation ensures that we are well-equipped to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the defendant’s arguments as quickly and decisively as possible.
If you have suffered injuries — whether the defendant is an employee of a larger company or was simply acting on their own — then you may be entitled to significant damages. Call (205) 391-9557 today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Tuscaloosa injury attorney here at Cross & Smith. We look forward to assisting you.
"After my husband was injured in a burn accident at work, we felt the accident could have been avoided. I was not sure where to start, but after careful research, we met with Justin Smith and shared our experience. From day one, we felt we were in good hands. Justin and Dell explained everything and kept us informed from start to finish. It was a complicated case that took an outside the box approach. Both Justin and Dell made us feel like part of the team."