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Respondeat Superior in California

GavelWhat happens if you are injured by an employee’s negligence? For example, a grocery store clerk mops up a spill, but neglects to put a caution sign on the wet spot, and you slip and fall on the wet floor. Usually, individual employees lack the financial resources to compensate you for your injuries.

Fortunately, California uses the doctrine of respondeat superior, which means that an employer is liable for its employee’s negligence. The injured person does not have to prove that the employer was independently negligent in order to recover damages from the employer. Instead, the victim only has to prove the employment relationship.

Who May Recover?

To recover damages from a defendant employer, the injured person must prove that:

  • He or she was harmed by the employee’s negligence; and
  • The negligent party was acting as the defendant’s employee when the accident occurred.

To prove that the negligent party was acting as the defendant’s employee, the injured person must show that the negligent person:\

  • Was the defendant’s employee; and
  • Was acting within the scope of the employment when he or she harmed the victim.

Generally, an injured person may hold an employer liable only for the negligent acts or omissions of an employee. So if an employee intentionally causes an accident, the employer will not be responsible. For example, if a delivery driver gets road rage and intentionally collides with another driver, the delivery company will not be liable for the damages.

Reason for Respondeat Superior

When an employee acts on behalf of an employer, it is the employer who gets the ultimate benefit of the employee’s actions. For example, when a grocery store clerk mops the floor of the store, it is the store that gets the benefit of having clean floors. Though the clerk is paid, most of the profit goes to the store and to its owners. So when an accident happens in the course of the employee doing his or her job, the grocery store should pay for damages, as part of the cost of doing business.

Scope of Employment

Respondeat superior only applies when the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment. This means that an injured party may only recover from the employer if the injury occurred while the employee was carrying out the duties of the job.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether an employee’s actions were within the scope of employment. For example, if a delivery truck driver collides with another vehicle while out on a delivery, that will likely be within the scope of employment. But what if the driver took a detour to the laundromat to pick up his laundry? This may not be within the scope of employment.

To determine whether an action is within the scope of employment, courts may consider factors including:

  • Whether the employee was on the clock;
  • Whether the employee’s actions were similar to the duties of the job;
  • Whether the employee’s actions furthered the employer’s business;
  • The foreseeability of the employee’s conduct;
  • How much decision-making power the employee had;
  • The amount of time the conduct took; and
  • The employee’s intent.

If you have been injured by another’s negligence, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out who is legally responsible, but an experienced attorney can help. Please contact the passionate San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for an initial consultation.

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