What Happens if I’m in a Palm Beach Car Accident While Driving for Work?

For the majority of adult working Americans, driving is a means to work — and a means for work. This is true despite the rise in remote work in recent years. If you are involved in a Palm Beach car accident while driving for work – or are hit by someone who was driving for work – there may be additional legal considerations for any subsequent personal injury claims.Palm Beach car accident attorney

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 79% of Floridians commute to work by car each day, and the average commute time increased from 25.6 minutes in 2021 to 26.4 minutes in 2022. During that same time, the percentage of people working from home went from 18 percent to 15.2 percent.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor of Labor Statistics reports that among civilian jobs, approximately 30 percent require driving some type of vehicle for work. About 21 percent drive passenger vehicles, while 9 percent some type of commercial vehicle, such as a tractor-trailer or construction vehicle. Some occupations, such as trucker, delivery person or policing, primarily involved driving.

As our Palm Beach car accident lawyers can explain, when a car crash occurs involving someone who is working, viability of legal claims may depend on:

  • Whether the driver was an employee of the company (as opposed to an independent contractor).
  • To whom the vehicle belonged.
  • Whether the individual was actively engaged in a work-related function at the time of the crash (as opposed to simply commuting to or from work).

The reason this is important to investigate is that when an employer can be held accountable for a crash, there is a greater potential for higher damages. That’s because employers tend to carry higher liability insurance for their employees than those people would as individuals.

Damages to the Working Driver

In Florida, most employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance that covers certain losses to employees injured while acting in the course and scope of employment. The nice thing about workers’ compensation is that it does not require the employee to prove the company was at-fault for the injury.

The downside, however, is that it typically only covers a portion of your damages, such as medical bills and lost wages. There’s no opportunity to recover damages from an employer for things like pain and suffering or emotional distress from a work-related accident.

However, if the other driver was at-fault for the crash, there may be an opportunity to recover both workers’ compensation and additional damages from the at-fault driver (assuming the extent of your injuries exceeds the serious injury threshold to step outside Florida’s no-fault insurance laws).

They could also have claims against other third parties, such as the vehicle manufacturer if a malfunction led or contributed to their crash-related injuries.

It’s worth noting, though, that if the third party ends up being ordered to pay certain damages that workers’ compensation has already covered, the latter would be entitled to subrogation rights to recover the portion they paid. (Ex: Your workers’ compensation insurer covers your medical costs, but then you recover damages for medical expenses from the third party. You can’t just keep that money. Your workers’ compensation insurer has subrogation rights to collect it.)

Damages to Those Injured by the Working Driver

When someone is injured by the negligence of a driver who was actively engaged in the business of their employer at the time of a crash, they can pursue legal action directly against the employer. This is thanks to the doctrine of respondeat superior. It’s a Latin phrase that means, “let the master answer,” and it’s a form of vicarious liability. This is true even if the employee was driving his or her own vehicle at the time.

Ownership of the vehicle matters, though, because Florida also allows vehicle owners to be vicariously liable for the negligence of those they allow to drive that vehicle. Cars are considered dangerous instrumentalities, and as such, vehicle owners are expected to use particular care in allowing them to be used.

To sue an employer for vicarious liability after a work-related crash, it’s important that the worker was an actual “employee” as opposed to an “independent contractor” for this rule to apply. The most significant exception to these would be certain rideshare and delivery service drivers, such as those working for Uber or Lyft. These companies have agreed to carry liability insurance for these workers, even though they are not technically “employees.”

It’s also necessary to establish that the worker was, in fact, “on-the-job,” as opposed to driving to or from work. In general, commuting to and from work isn’t considered to be “within the course and scope of employment.” However, this should be decided on a case-by-case basis because sometimes, one could be on their way to work but stopping on a “special errand” for an employer (such as getting coffee for everyone in the office), and this may be considered “in the course and scope of employment.”

Although a claim for an employer’s vicarious liability does not require proof that the employer themselves were negligent, there may be additional claims if the employer was negligent – i.e., negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, etc.

Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Additional Resources:
More Blog Entries:
How West Palm Beach Injury Lawyers Identify Solid Settlement Offers, Dec. 20, 2023, West Palm Beach Car Accident Lawyer Blog
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