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Employer Responsibility in Car Accident Caused by Employee

Man upset about car accident

In a motion for summary judgment before a New York Supreme Court judge in Nassau County, the judge has determined that an employer can still be held responsible for an employee’s negligence, even when a wrongful act is committed after an employee seems to have finished work for the day.

The case, titled Fontana v. New Econo Laundromat Inc., stemmed from an accident involving a truck and a pedestrian, occurring on November 14, 2011. Diosmi Miguelina Beltre was in the process of crossing Marcus Avenue in the town of New Hyde Park when she was hit by a truck being driven by defendant Kyung Bae. Bae was an employee of New Econo Laundromat (New Econo). While Bae had been working for New Econo earlier that day, the accident occurred after business hours, after Bae had been shopping and was on his way to a restaurant.

Beltre sued both Bae and New Econo, including Bae’s employer under the theory of respondeat superior. This is a legal concept that allows injured plaintiffs to sue employers for negligent acts committed by their employees while they are completing job-related tasks. Defendant New Econo filed a motion requesting that the court dismiss it as a defendant in the lawsuit. New Econo argued that it was not linked to the accident in any way, since the truck Bae was driving was not registered to New Econo, nor was it listed on New Econo’s corporate insurance policy. Additionally, New Econo argued that respondeat superior didn’t apply, since at the time of the accident Bae was driving after business hours and not for business purposes, but instead was carrying out personal errands. Typically, if an employee is acting outside the scope of their job duties when an accident occurs, an employer cannot be held liable for injuries that employee causes. This would have made Bae the only party responsible for the accident.

Beltre countered these arguments by pointing out that, while the truck that hit her was not registered to New Econo, the address under which it was registered served as the commercial headquarters for New Econo. In fact, the truck was registered to Wook Hyun Bae, Kyung’s brother and the co-owner with Bae of New Econo. Kyung was a 40% shareholder, while Wook Hyun owned the other 60%. Additionally, Beltre argued that Bae had been shopping for the same kind of fluorescent lightbulbs that were used in the Baes’ laundromat, meaning that he may well have been performing job-related tasks at the time of the accident, after all.

In its opinion, the court pointed out that employers may still be held responsible for the acts of employees even when those employees are doing their job imperfectly, or which started as tasks for their employers, but became tasks carried out for personal reasons. The court noted that it will look at whether or not the employee’s activities were totally separate from the employer’s business, whether the employer still maintained some control over the employee, direct or indirect, and whether the employee’s actions weren’t business-related but were actions an employer could’ve reasonably predicted. Also, the court noted that, while employers aren’t usually responsible for injuries caused by an employee driving to or from work, the employer is generally held responsible when an employee is driving a company vehicle home after their last business appointment. Since Bae was driving what seemed to be a company car back from what seemed to be a work-related errand, the court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to justify maintaining a claim against New Econo, and denied their motion for summary judgment.

If you or someone you love have been injured in a New York accident, contact the knowledgeable and trial-ready personal injury attorney Leandros A. Vrionedes for a consultation on your case, in Manhattan at 212-889-9362, or in Queens at 718-777-5895.