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Vicarious liability in personal injury litigation, P.2

Last time, we began discussing the issue of liability in the context of motor vehicle accidents. As we noted, it is important for accident victims to explore all possibilities in terms of liability, including the possibility of comparative negligence and vicarious liability, particularly employer liability for the actions of employees and independent contractors.

We’ve already pointed out that employers are generally accountable for the wrongful actions of employees acting within the scope of employment, but are only liable for the wrongful actions of independent contractors in limited situations. One important limitation on vicarious liability is foreseeability, which limits the type of actions for which an employer can be held responsible. 

Established New York case law has it that, to be held vicariously liable, the employee’s actions must have been generally foreseeable by the employer, as well as naturally incident to the employment. In the context of motor vehicle accidents, this means that the general type of employee conduct which led to the accident must have been reasonably expected and must be a natural part of the motorist’s work duties.

The foreseeability requirement for vicarious liability relates back to the requirement that the employee must have been acting within the scope of his or her employment. Should an employer be able to foresee an employee conducting personal affairs using the company car? What about employee misconduct? The courts have established that the key question is whether the employee was doing the employer’s work at the time of the wrongdoing, regardless of how irregularly or with what disregard of training or instructions.

Scope of employment can be an important issue in motor vehicle accidents where an employee gets into an accident while on the clock, but where the employee’s activity at the time of the accident was not strictly related to work. We’ll consider this issue in our next post. 

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