The Oklahoma Court recently held that a business negligently entrusting an employee with a vehicle can be held liable for a separate and distinct claim from the respondent superior doctrine if the employee is involved in a crash.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an Opinion on September 18, 2018 in Fox v. Mize that an employer’s liability for negligently entrusting a vehicle to an unfit employee is a separate and distinct theory of liability from that of an employer’s liability under the respondeat superior doctrine. Even an employer’s stipulation that an accident occurred during the course and scope of employment does not bar a separate negligent entrustment claim.
What is the respondeat superior doctrine (also called vicarious liability)? The term Respondeat Superior is Latin that translates to “Let the Master Speak for Himself”. This law requires an employer to be liable for the acts of an employee if the act was conducted within the scope of their employment.
This case arose when a truck driver was in an accident that killed a motorcyclist while the truck driver was driving for his employer. The administrator of the deceased estate brought a lawsuit for negligence against the truck driver and against the employer under the respondeat superior theory. The administrator also sued the employer for negligent entrustment of allowing the driver to drive the businesses vehicle.
The court held that this was proper because the negligence claim under the respondeat superior theory was for a separate and distinct act than the act of negligently entrusting the driver to drive the business vehicle.
How can this affect a business? The Court stated, “Employers employing unfit and unqualified drivers cannot insulate themselves from a negligent entrustment claim simply by stipulating that the employee driver was acting in the course and scope of employment.”
If you own a business, you need to make sure you have a procedure and are following it when entrusting any of your employees with a vehicle (or other action for that matter). If you follow a proper established procedure to ensure that your employees are properly trained and prepared for the tasks you give them, you will be better prepared to defend a similar claim if one arises against your business.