Company Truck

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Q: My vehicle was hit head-on by a truck.  The truck driver was driving to a job site in a company vehicle.  His blood alcohol content was 0.14%.  In connection with the accident, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated and for vehicular assault.

A: New York State has a ‘permissive use’ statute, Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388(1).  It provides that “[e]very owner of a vehicle used or operated in this state shall be liable and responsible for death or injuries to person or property resulting from negligence in the use or operation of such vehicle, in the business of such owner or otherwise, by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner.”

If the driver exceeded restrictions as to time, place and purpose, then the owner may escape liability.  If the driver merely violated limiting instructions that relate to the manner of operation – such as speeding or ‘careless pilotage’ – then it is not so easy for the owner to escape.  Even if the owner had a requirement to drive sober, your attorney will argue that it related merely to the manner of operating the vehicle, and not to when and where.

There is also the doctrine of respondeat superior: if the driving was taking place in furtherance of the employer’s business and within the scope of employment, then the employer can be vicariously liable.  Even where the employee was using the vehicle in going to or from work, it is possible that the employer was deriving some special benefit – and so a finding that the employee was acting within the scope of his employment would be justified.

Suppose that (a) the truck contained a tool box for work tools, (b) the truck advertised the business by displaying the company name and logo, (c) the employee used the truck to transport supplies to job sites from home improvement stores, and (d) he worked at construction job sites rather than a main office, so permitting him to take the vehicle home saved him from having to use work time to pick the company truck up and drop it off at a central location each day.  If so, your attorney will argue that, despite any intoxication, respondeat superior applies, because the employer was deriving a benefit from the employee’s ability to take the vehicle home.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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