There are times when employees don’t strictly follow the instructions to perform their duties in the course of their employment. It happens all the time, of course. A barista in a coffee shop takes a moment to check his text messages in the middle of a busy afternoon; a public transit driver stops the bus to chit-chat with a pedestrian. There are any number of scenarios, to be sure. But when those actions result in harm to others, who is at fault? More to the point, who can legally be held liable for damages?
Employer liability typically does cast a longer shadow on the employer when employees’ actions on the job cause harm to others, but there are times when courts let the employer off the hook, and this blog post will discuss a few that are commonly seen and important to consider in these cases.
Detour: Courts call instances when employees deviate from strict instructions in the capacity of their work, yet their actions are still related to the work itself a detour. Detours are typically still seen as the fault of the employer, and can lead to damages they will have to bear.
An example of a detour is when a tree trimmer does not practice caution in ensuring the area within a 6 foot radius of the tree is clear of pedestrians before trimming when that was the explicit instructions provided by their employer and training. If someone is indeed within that 6 foot radius and a branch falls and hits them, causing an injury, the employer will likely still be on the hook for damages. The fact is the action did deviate from the employer’s instructions and the training the employee received, however, they were related to the work at hand and fall under the purview of the employer. The employer has a responsibility to ensure their employees are strictly following their instructions, particularly when there is a safety issue at hand. Failure to ensure that employees stick to the rules (especially those that govern safety) can cause employers to find themselves stuck paying hefty damages as a result.
Frolic: A frolic, on the other hand, is an action taken in the course of an employee’s duties, that completely deviates from their work. Say, for instance, a landscaping company provides a flatbed truck and equipment for project managers and allows them to store them at home so they don’t have to drive to the company location to set up for their projects every day. And let’s say a manager uses that equipment to trim the trees in their parents’ place as a personal favor to them. If an accident occurs during that trimming and a neighbor, for instance, is injured, because this constitutes non-authorized use of the equipment and is not in the performance of a service contracted by the company, the employer is likely to see no liability assigned to them in this case, unless it can be proven that the employer was aware that occasionally managers used their equipment for personal reasons. Again, the landscaper was using company equipment at the time but for personal needs and not an authorized service.
Other, more egregious, situations may constitute liability for the employer when employees’ actions harm victims. They include: negligent hiring or retention or harassment. Read more about their impact on personal injury claims when employees cause harm here.
If you’ve been injured at the hands of an employee or find yourself harmed by a worker’s neglect, don’t hesitate to seek professional medical help. And remember to call Bizzieri Law Offices at 773.881.9000 to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help get you the compensation you deserve.