Car Accidents in Company Vehicles: Determining Liability

Every day, someone heads out of their home and jumps in their car to run an errand, take a trip to see a friend, or get back and forth to work. These seem like ordinary things to do, but sometimes normal things turn into scary events.

Sadly, only some drivers exercise the proper caution when they get behind the wheel of a car. Across the United States, there are hundreds of car accidents every year. These accidents occur at all times of the day and night.

Sometimes, however, a driver is not driving their vehicle—they are driving a company car. This makes determining liability for the injuries a victim suffers more complicated than when the owner is the operator of the car.

More People Using Company Cars Every Day

Car Accidents in Company Vehicles: Determining LiabilitySome employees use company cars to travel between work sites, others operate vehicles owned by their company to get to sales calls, and others use a company-owned vehicle while working and during personal time.

With this type of information, it is essential to understand when a company bears liability for an accident and when the operator is financially responsible. Here are some examples:

Scenario One: A driver is operating a company car and is speeding to get to their next appointment on time. While traveling, they see the light ahead of them turning green to yellow. Being concerned about time, the driver hits the gas to make it through the light. You are traveling in front of them, and you slow down when the light turns yellow and come to a complete stop when the light turns red.

The driver plows into the rear end of your car and pushes you through the intersection. A car coming in the opposite direction hits the side of your car as well.

  • Who is at fault: The driver speeding is at fault for the accident. The driver, traveling in the opposite direction, could not have foreseen the driver behind you striking you in the rear end and pushing you into the intersection.
  • Why you cannot hold the company liable: While the driver acted within the scope of their employment, the company’s policy about operating a company vehicle contains clear statements about following all traffic laws and signals. This policy has no gray area, and a review shows the company has dismissed people for violating traffic rules.

Scenario Two: A company hires a salesperson without running a thorough background check. In the course of getting to a sales appointment, the salesperson is driving erratically and causes a side-swipe accident where you suffer a severe injury.

The driver has a long history of driving violations, which your attorney discovers when investigating the driver.

  • Who is at fault: The company can be held liable for the accident because they did not do the proper investigations when they allowed the salesperson to operate a vehicle. Had the company conducted a full background check, they would have found that the driver’s record was poor before they turned a company vehicle over to them.
  • Why you can hold the company liable: When someone is operating a vehicle in the scope of doing their work, a company has a responsibility to ensure that the person is appropriately coached on the policies which are in place governing the operation of the company’s vehicles. However, the company also must ensure the driver does not have a history of poor driving habits. This comes under the theory that an employer must ensure proper supervision, retention, and hiring policies.

Scenario Three: You are involved in a head-on collision with a vehicle that is company owned. The driver was traveling at an appropriate rate of speed, they were obeying all traffic signals, and they were using their signals responsibly.

A vehicle in the lane next to the driver was traveling at a high rate of speed, faster than traffic conditions made safe. That car was weaving in and out of traffic without signaling.

They hit the side of the company-owned vehicle causing the driver to cross over into the traffic lane where you were traveling, and you were struck head on.

  • Who was at fault: The third driver, driving recklessly, is responsible for the collision. However, the company may bear some responsibility for the damage to your vehicle and your injuries, depending on the outcome of an investigation.
  • Why you can hold the company liable: If the driver who caused the initial collision is underinsured or their coverage is inadequate to cover the financial losses you suffer from the accident, it may be possible to file a third-party claim. An experienced car accident attorney is the best person to handle the claim.

Not every company vehicle accident involves a victim who is not driving the car. In some cases, a poorly maintained company vehicle may result in an employee suffering an injury. These injuries may be covered by worker’s compensation depending on the circumstances of the accident.

Sometimes, defects in a vehicle can also result in an accident occurring on a busy roadway. Remember, the more complicated the situation, the more likely it is that an injured victim, whether operating a company car or being struck by a company car driven by an employee, should contact a lawyer for advice and assistance.

U.S. Roadway Accident Statistics

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 4.8 million roadway users were seriously injured in accidents across the United States in one recent year. This is a staggering number, and it is always important to remember that these statistics reflect actual people; they are not merely numbers.

When digging deeper into the NSC statistics, we learn more about the types of accidents that cause the most injuries.

  • Angle collisions account for more than 44 percent of all injury crashes.
  • Rear-end collisions account for nearly 4o percent of all collisions.
  • Sideswipe and head-on collisions account for the balance of accidents that result in injury.

Regardless of what type of accident someone has been involved in when the other driver was operating a company vehicle, the claims process gets complicated.

Filing a Claim Against the Company Who Owns the Vehicle

Once it has been determined who is at fault for the accident, the claims process can begin. Victims will file a claim along with a copy of the police report, which was obtained from the law enforcement agency that investigated the accident.

Claims are always challenging. No insurance company wants to pay a claim because it impacts their bottom line. In the case where the company owns the vehicle, the insurance company may look for various reasons to deny the claim, even when the company is liable.

The more complicated a claim is, the more it makes sense to get an attorney involved in the claims process. Often, accident victims are uncertain about what rights they have. Auto insurance laws vary significantly from state to state. Working with a lawyer who understands the laws that impact your ability to file a claim can help you get the compensation you deserve and ensure all responsible parties are held financially liable.

Damages Available to Car Accident Victims

Regardless of who owns the vehicle which caused someone to suffer an injury, certain classifications of damages may be sought in the claims process.

These may include:

  • Medical expenses. Any monies a car accident victim spends to have their injuries from an accident treated can be included in a settlement demand. The medical expenses range from an ambulance trip from the accident scene to the hospital. It continues when the victim no longer needs treatment, including rehabilitation, for the injuries suffered in a car accident.
  • Lost income. When someone suffers an injury, they need time to recover. This often means taking time off work. Even if benefits are paid during this time, the benefits are often a fraction of normal income. The financial status of a victim’s family is more challenging when they are out of work.
  • Property damage. Often, people think the only property damage which can occur in a car accident is to the car. However, this is not always the case. Some people have laptop computers or other electronics in their vehicles during an accident. The sudden jarring of the car can cause serious damage to this equipment. Clothing and other personal property damage may also be included in a claim.
  • Non-economic damages. Pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health issues often occur following a car accident. Talk to an attorney about the possibility of including non-economic losses in an accident injury claim.
  • Punitive damages. When a driver has acted egregiously, they may be forced to provide the victim punitive damages. These damages may be assessed when a driver is under the influence, operated recklessly, or in other limited circumstances. A lawyer can advise a victim whether these damages are appropriate in a specific case.

An experienced car accident attorney can recover compensation for you after an accident in a company vehicle, regardless of who caused it or how the accident occurred.

Insurance Adjusters and Auto Accident Claims

Insurance adjusters are assigned to claims soon after they are made. Generally, there are two claims adjusters: one handles property damage, and one handles medical claims. This can get extremely confusing and complicated for a victim who may not clearly understand who they are speaking with.

In most cases, a victim should allow a lawyer to deal with the insurance company. Insurers have trained adjusters to ask leading questions to draw out information from a victim. The information an adjuster seeks from a victim can be anything that would reduce the amount of liability the insurance company has.

They may try to discover:

  • The victim’s health before the accident. In some cases, the insurance company will claim the injuries sustained in an accident existed in some form before an accident. For example, if a victim has suffered a ruptured disc in their back during an accident, but they have a history of back trouble, the insurer may claim the victim is not entitled to compensation.
  • The victim’s current pain level. An adjuster will likely ask a victim of a car accident how they feel. Without thinking, the victim may respond that they are feeling fine or okay, or similar. The insurance company could use this simple response to claim the victim exaggerates their injury to collect insurance.

Victims of a car accident should always remember that an insurance adjuster is not their friend, even when they seem friendly. Their goal is to help their employer, which is the opposite of the goal of your personal injury attorney. When you work with a lawyer, you will be working with someone with your best interests in mind at all times.

Time Limits on Filing Accident Injury Claims

Each state has a statute of limitations for filing accident claims. For example, Texas allows a victim two years to file a lawsuit against the person or party responsible for their injuries. Although this may seem like a long time, it is important to remember that filing a claim in court comes after negotiations with insurance companies fail. The negotiation process can drag on for months following an accident.

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer For Help

Being involved in an accident is frightening. Most people do not know their rights when they have suffered an injury in a car accident. Whether you operated a company-owned vehicle or in a car accident involving a company vehicle injured you, contact a personal injury lawyer immediately to find out your legal rights and options.

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