Back to the Basics – Accidents and Employer Liability

According to the Washington Post, comedian Tracy Morgan has reached a settlement with Wal-Mart after last year’s accident.  In June of last year, Mr. Morgan was in a limo bus on the New Jersey Turnpike that was rear-ended by a WalMart tractor-trailer. The accident killed one passenger in the bus – comedy writer James McNair – and left Mr. Morgan with broken bones among other injuries. Mr. Morgan filed a personal injury suit against Wal-Mart in July, and Wal-Mart had originally attempted to avoid liability by claiming that Mr. Morgan was not wearing a seat belt. The driver of the tractor-trailer, who was employed by Wal-Mart, had not slept for over 24 hours before the accident.


Employer Liability

In Tracy Morgan’s lawsuit, Wal-Mart’s liability was asserted based on the doctrine of Respondeat Superior. Respondeat Superior is a legal theory that allows for an employer to be held liable or responsible for the tortious acts of an employee, if the employee’s acts within the scope of their employment.


The doctrine of Respondeat Superior does not require a victim to prove that an employer took, or failed to take, any action in order to hold an employer accountable, If the accident occurs due to the acts of an employee, the doctrine allows an employer to be held responsible – regardless of what the employer did. The actions of the employee, so long as they are within the scope of their employment, can be used to hold the employer responsible.


In Mr. Morgan’s suit against Wal-Mart, because the driver of the tractor-trailer was driving in the scope of his employment for Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart could potentially be liable to the victims of the accident.


Limits on Employer Liability

An employee’s actions cannot always allow for an employer to be held liable. There are generally three ways in which an employer can escape liability for an employee’s actions:

  • Frolic and detour
  • Independent contractor status
  • Intentional torts


Frolic and Detour

A basic explanation of the doctrine of Frolic and Detour is that an employer is not liable for an employee’s conduct that is outside of employment. If the employee’s conduct is undertaken for the employee’s own benefit, and not as part of employment, the employer will not be held liable for damages.


Independent Contractors

The doctrine of Respondeat Superior, which holds employers responsible, applies only to actions of employees and not to actions of independent contractors. The courts’ analysis to determine whether or not someone is an employee goes beyond the language in a contract or a party’s job title. The courts look at several different factors to determine whether the relationship between the employer and the party that caused the injury had an employer-employee relationship.


Intentional Torts

Employers are able to avoid liability for intentional torts committed by their employees. Even if employees are otherwise acting within the scope of their employment, generally if an employee commits intentionally wrongful acts (such as assault), so long as the actions were not required by employment, or foreseeable, an employer will not be held liable for the action.


If you or a loved one has experienced a personal injury, it can be confusing and difficult to identify who can be held responsible. Our attorneys have the skills and experience to guide you through the process and help you get the justice that you deserve.


See Related Blog Posts:

Holding Trucking Companies Responsible When Mechanical Issues Lead to Tragic Crashes

Commercial Truck Accidents and Legal Liability: Who’s Responsible When Trucks Cause Injuries?

The Dangerous Intersection of Drowsy Driving and Big Rig Accidents

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