Employer’s Liability for Employee’s Car Accident in Maryland

Maryland Business Law Regarding Employer’s Liability for Employee’s Car Accident.

The doctrine of respondeat superior, which has long been recognized in Maryland, holds an employer vicariously liable for the tortious conduct of an employee when the employee is acting within the scope of the employment relationship.  It is thus the general rule “that a master is liable for the acts which his servant does with the actual or apparent authority of the master, or which the servant does within the scope of his employment, or which the master ratifies with the knowledge of all the material facts.”   The rule, however, has been to some extent narrowed with respect to automobiles.  “On account of the extensive use of the motor vehicle with its accompanying dangers, the courts have realized that a strict application of the doctrine of respondeat superior in the modern commercial world would result in great injustice.”  “It is now held by the great weight of authority that a master will not be held responsible for negligent operation of a servant’s automobile, even though engaged at the time in furthering the master’s business unless the master expressly or impliedly consents to the use of the automobile, and … had the right to control the servant in its operation, or else the use of the automobile was of such vital importance in furthering the master’s business that his control over it might reasonably be inferred.”

The application of the doctrine “rests upon the power of control and direction which the superior has over the subordinate, and … does not arise when the servant is not actually or constructively under the direction and control of the master.”   In other words, the doctrine may be properly invoked to hold an employer liable if the master has, “expressly or impliedly, authorized the [servant] to use his personal vehicle in the execution of his duties, and the employee is in fact engaged in such endeavors at the time of the accident.”   Normally, therefore, while driving to and from his job site, an employee is not acting within the scope of his employment.  It is essentially the employee’s own responsibility to get to or from work.  Thus, the general rule is that absent special circumstances, an employer will not be vicariously liable for the negligent conduct of his employee occurring while the employee is traveling to or from work.

If there is no consent, express or implied, by the employer to the use of the employee’s automobile as the means of transportation to the place of employment, then the employer is not liable for the damages caused by employee’s car accident.  However, if the employer consents, expressly or impliedly, to the use of employee’s automobile as part of his employment, then the employer may be liable for the damages caused by the employee’s automobile accident in Maryland.  In other words, the doctrine of respondeat superior may be properly invoked if the master has, “expressly or impliedly, authorized the employee to use his personal vehicle in the execution of his duties, and the employee is in fact engaged in such endeavors at the time of the accident.”   Normally, therefore, while driving to and from his job site, an employee is not considered to have been acting within the scope of his employment.  It is essentially the employee’s own responsibility to get to or from work.  Thus, the general rule is that absent special circumstances, an employer will not be vicariously liable for the negligent conduct of his employee occurring while the employee is traveling to or from work.

Some “special circumstances” that have led to the employer’s vicarious liability for employee’s car accident are whether the employee’s position with employer require driving on a regular basis.  If an employee does not have the option of using alternative means of transportation to work, the employee’s use of his own vehicle then does not become a matter of choice or personal convenience.  If employee’s use of personal automobile at the time of accident was in furtherance of employee’s business then the employer may be held liable for damages caused by the employee’s car accident in Maryland.

An experienced Maryland business lawyer can minimize your liability for your business activities by implementing the right structure, policies, and procedures that protect you under the law.  Contact us for an appointment (301-309-9002; ask@kamkarilaw.com) if you need additional information from Maryland business lawyers regarding Maryland business laws, buying or selling a business in Maryland, forming new Maryland business entities (Maryland corporation, LLCs, PCs, etc), or if you are seeking aggressive representation regarding your business dispute and/or commercial litigation.

Some excerpts from the Maryland Court of Appeals decisions in Dhanraj v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 305 Md. 623, 506 A.2d 224 (1986), and Oaks v. Connors, 339 Md. 24, 660 A.2d 423 (Md., 1994).

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