Determining the Liable Party in a North Carolina Personal Injury Claim

One of the most important parts of any North Carolina personal injury lawsuit is making sure that the party responsible for the injury is the one being sued. While that may seem like an obvious statement, it is not always easy. Sure, there are instances where two people get into a car accident and the responsibility ends with the two drivers, but what if one of those drivers was an employee of a company? Is the company responsible because they put that person behind the wheel?

Those questions are answered by an area of law known as agency law. Agency law is the law that governs when one person, the agent, is acting for the benefit of another person, the principal. Generally speaking, a principal can be held responsible for the careless actions of their agents if two things are true. There must be a legal agency relationship between the two people and the agent must be acting within the scope of the authority given to them.

The Existence of an Agency Relationship

The first question to answer when trying to figure out whether there may be another person responsible for an accident is whether an agency relationship actually exists. The law looks at three things to find an agency relationship: assent, benefit, and control. Assent is the idea that both the agent and the principal have an agreement in place setting up such a relationship, even if that agreement is informal. Benefit means that the agent must be acting for the benefit of the principal. Control occurs when the principal has the authority to supervise how the agent does their work. Generally, an employer-employee relationship will almost always constitute an agency relationship, but other examples may arise as well.

Acting within the Scope of Authority

If there is an agency relationship, then the principal can be held liable for the carelessness of the agent if that carelessness occurred while the agent was acting within the scope of their authority. First, the conduct the agent was engaged in had to be the sort of thing that the principal had hired them to do. Second, the agent must be on the job when the accident occurred. However, “on the job” has a broad meaning.

For example, if the employee is driving across town for the employer and takes a small detour to run an errand, they are still on the job during that detour. Conversely, if the employee leaves for the day and is entirely on their own time, the law considers that a “frolic,” which would no longer put the agent “on the job.” Finally, the agent must be taking the action with the intent to benefit the principal in order to qualify as acting within the scope of their authority. If all three conditions are met, then it is possible that the principal may be held responsible for injuries caused by their agent’s carelessness.

Contact an NC Accident Attorney for More Information

Settling a personal injury case and trying to negotiate with the insurance company can be difficult without the legal expertise of a North Carolina injury attorney. At Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp, our legal team will provide a free case evaluation to determine what legal options you may have and how to proceed. Call our office today to find out how we can help get you the financial compensation you deserve.