Suing the Employer of a Commercial Driver

In Arizona, if you have been injured in a car accident (or any other accident) due to the negligence of a defendant-driver who is an employee acting within the course and scope of their employment at the time of the accident, then you may be entitled to sue and recover damages from their employer.  This is known as the doctrine of vicarious liability.

What is Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious liability — also known as respondeat superior — is a doctrine implemented by the state of Arizona (and many other states) that holds employers liable for the negligence committed by their employees.  A claim brought against an employer pursuant to vicarious liability is not separate or distinct in any way from the claim that you would otherwise bring against the driver.  If you are bringing a claim against the employer for contributing to your injuries (i.e., asserting that the employer negligently hired or supervised the employee driver), then that will be separate and distinct from your vicarious liability claim.

This can all be rather complicated to understand, at first glance, so let’s go through a quick example for clarification.

Imagine that you suffer injuries in a car accident involving a pizza delivery driver.  The driver was operating their vehicle negligently at the time of the accident, and was on their way to delivering pizzas to customers.  You could ostensibly sue and recover damages from both the driver and their pizzeria employer.

In some cases, the employer may contribute to the accident by acting negligently themselves.  For example, if the pizzeria in the previous example was aware that the driver had a long history of reckless driving (i.e., license suspensions, drunk driving, numerous accidents, etc.), then you may be able to bring a separate claim against the pizzeria employer for negligent hiring/supervision.

Course and Scope of Employment

In order to successfully bring a claim pursuant to vicarious liability, you must show that the driver was acting within the course and scope of their employment.  In other words, you must show that the driver was either performing his or her regular job duties, or were otherwise furthering some legitimate business purpose at the time of the accident.  For example, if the driver left work and was driving to meet some friends for dinner, that would likely not count as acting “within the course and scope” of their employment.

When determining whether the driver’s actions are within the course and scope of their employment, the court will look the the extent to which the driver was subject to the control of their employer.  The greater amount of control over the driver’s behavior that the employer can exert, the more likely it is that a court will find that the driver was acting within the course and scope of their employment.

In a surprising number of car accident cases, the defendant-driver is in fact an employee (acting within the course and scope of their employment), thus making the lawsuit somewhat more complicated, and potentially, making it more likely that the plaintiff can receive full compensation for their injuries.  Critically, Arizona law entitles plaintiffs to sue and recover damages from the employer on the basis of vicarious liability, but it only applies in certain circumstances.

Connect with an experienced Phoenix car accident lawyer here at Hirsch & Lyon.  Call (602) 535-1900 today.  Initial consultation is free — our attorneys will assess your claims and help you navigate the litigation process.

We look forward to speaking with you.