Respondeat Superior Liability

Vicarious Liability of an Employer for an Auto Accident
Caused by Its Employee in Georgia


Under Georgia law, an employer is subject to vicarious liability for car accidents and motorcycle accidents caused by its employee's negligent driving.  Georgia recognizes the doctrine of respondeat superior which provides that an employer can be held liable for negligent acts committed by its employees while they were within the “course and scope” of their employment. See O.C.G.A. § 51-2-2. Thus, employers can be held vicariously liable for injuries or deaths caused by an employee’s negligence provided the employee was working or somehow serving the interests of his employer. The doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to circumstances where the employee is purely on a personal errand or mission which in no way involves his job or provides any benefit to his employer.

Car accident victims in Georgia can use the doctrine of respondeat superior to seek compensation from the employers of at-fault drivers who were working within the “course and scope” of their employment at the time of the collision. In situations involving a negligent driver who was “on the job” or performing some errand or service for his place of employment when the accident took place, the injured motorist or pedestrian can assert a claim of vicarious liability against the driver’s employer, and include the employer as an additional defendant in a lawsuit. In these cases, the employer (and its insurance company) may be a much better source of potential compensation than just the individual driver alone.

Proving Employer Vicarious Liability
in a Georgia Car Accident Lawsuit

The key to establishing the employer’s vicarious liability under respondeat superior is proof that the employee was in the performance of his employer’s business at the time of the car or motorcycle accident. Whether the employee was in the “course and scope” of his employment is a fact intensive inquiry which will take into account testimony and other evidence concerning, among other things, what the employee was doing or had been doing, and where he had gone or was going just prior to the collision. Another key fact is whether the vehicle was owned by the employer. Under Georgia law, when an employee causes a traffic accident while driving a company car or vehicle owned by his employer, a presumption arises that the employee was within the “course and scope” of his employment. In the case of a company owned truck or car, the employer must overcome this presumption by coming forth with proof that the employee was not operating the vehicle within the “course and scope” of his employment. Absent such evidence, respondeat superior liability will apply to the employer which owned the vehicle negligently driven by its employee.

Employer Liability for Motor Vehicle Accidents
Which Occur During Trips to and from Work

Many car accidents take place while employees are driving from home to their place of work, or from work back home at the end of the day. The question arises as to whether such travel to and from work constitutes the “course and scope” of employment such that the employer is vicariously liable for accidents which take place during these trips. As a general rule, the answer is no. Georgia appellate courts have consistently held that respondeat superior liability does not apply in cases involving motor vehicle accidents caused by an employee’s negligent driving while going to and from his place of employment. The general rule is that merely driving from home to one’s place of employment does not constitute work, nor does the employee remain within the “course and scope” of his employment after he leaves his employer’s premises to drive home. Similarly, Georgia appellate courts have held that employers are not liable for accidents which take place while employees are out on their lunch hour getting something to eat.

However, there are two primary exceptions to this general rule. The first is known at the “special mission” exception. Employers have been held vicariously liable where the employee is asked to do something for the benefit of the employer during his trip to work or during his return home from work. In some recent cases, proof that the driver was using a cell phone to engage in a business related conversation showed that the employee was not entirely “off the job” and helped establish the basis for a respondeat superior liability against the employer. The second exception involves company owned vehicles. There are cases which apply respondeat superior against the employer where the employee was required to drive a company owned vehicle to and from work for the benefit of the employer.

Contact an Atlanta Car Accident Lawyer

Holding an employer vicariously liable is especially important in cases where someone has been seriously injured or killed. The employer often has additional liability insurance and/or more assets available to pay the higher amounts of damages suffered in a case involving wrongful death or severe injury. Attorneys at Ragland & Jones, LLP have considerable experience with cases involving respondeat superior liability. They have handled many car accident and motorcycle accident lawsuits in which the employer of the at-fault driver was alleged to be vicariously liable for the negligent driving of its employee. We encourage you to contact us if you or a family member has been hurt or killed in a car wreck caused by a negligent driver who was working or on the job at the time of the accident.