Under North Carolina law, employers can be held responsible for the actions of employees who cause personal injuries to others. It is understood that the employer “controls” the employee. This is based on the legal doctrine called vicarious liability. As long as the employee was acting on behalf of the employer at the time of the accident/the injuries occurred, then the employer can be held legally liable for the losses the victim suffers because of those injuries. One of the most common types of accidents where vicarious liability comes into play is vehicle accidents.
Determining Employer Liability
When a North Carolina car accident attorney investigates whether vicarious liability can be applied to a case, the first thing they will look at is whether the accident that caused the victim’s injury was done in the course of the employee’s job.
For example, let’s take an employee who has use of a company vehicle both during work and after hours. If that employee was driving the company vehicle and making a delivery to a customer on behalf of the employer, ran a stop sign, and caused the crash, then vicarious liability could be applied. But if that same employee was driving home from work, ran a stop sign, and caused the crash, it would not apply since the employee was no longer doing an act that benefited the employer.
One of the most common types of vehicle accidents where vicarious liability in North Carolina applies is commercial truck accidents. In the majority of truck accidents, the accident was caused by negligence or recklessness of the truck driver. Negligent acts that cause truck accidents include:
- Distracted driving
- Fatigued driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
- Inexperience or lack of training
Trucking companies have a responsibility to ensure that all truck drivers they employ are qualified and have good driving records. When a truck driver fails to obey the rules of the road, federal trucking regulations, or is otherwise unqualified, the trucking company is legally liable for any damages and destruction that driver causes.
In some cases, the employer will hire independent contractors instead of hiring them as employees. Many employers will hire independent contractors as a way to avoid paying payroll taxes, workers’ compensation benefits, and other benefits. Independent contractors usually control when and how they perform the duties assigned to them and are not controlled the same way as an employee would be.
While an employer may think it is not liable for any accidents caused by an individual it describes as an independent contractor, the application of NC law may result in a different outcome. In a fairly recent case, McKenzie v. Charlton, the NC Court of Appeals found an individual described as an independent contractor by his employer was, according to the definitions of “independent contractor” and “employee” recited in prior judicial decisions, an employee of the employer for liability purposes. This resulted in the employer being liable for the negligent actions of its employee in the course of his job.
Contact an NC Accident Attorney for More Information
Personal injury cases can be difficult to prove without the legal expertise of a North Carolina injury attorney. These cases can be complex and failure to provide sufficient evidence could result in a dismissal of the case by the court or a ruling in favor of the defendant (at-fault party).
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.