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Driver On Cell Phone Hits Woman $4.1 Million Settlement

A recent case in Illinois demonstrates the potential for employers to be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees during the course and scope of their employment. Like Illinois, Arizona also follows vicarious liability law to hold employers responsible when their employees commit torts while they are working through a theory called “respondeat superior”.

The Illinois Case

In the Illinois case, Barnes v. Svec, III, a 71-year-old woman was driving her car. As she passed through an intersection, a man driving a company van ran the red light and smashed into her while he was using his cell phone’s GPS system. The woman was seriously injured, suffering multiple fractures to her pelvis, a puncture to her heart, bleeding on her brain and other internal injuries. She had past medical costs of around $756,700 and filed a personal injury lawsuit.

In her complaint, the woman named both the driver as well as his employer as defendants to the lawsuit. She named the employer as a defendant, since the driver was driving during the course and scope of his employment.  The defendants admitted they were liable and reached a settlement of $4.1 million with the plaintiff. The employer was named as a “defendant” under the theory of respondeat superior, and the employer’s insurance carrier was responsible for paying the settlement amount to the woman.

Employer Liability in Arizona

In Arizona, the law concerning employer liability for the tortuous, or negligent, actions of their employees while working originally arose out of the common law. Over time, the law regarding employer liability for the actions of their employees has evolved. A 2012 decision by the Arizona Supreme Court updated the law for when employers may be held responsible for the actions of their employees by focusing on the element of control, or whether or not the employer was acting while in the course and scope of their employment.

The Arizona Case

In Engler v. Gulf Interstate Engineering, Inc., 280 P.3d 599 (Ariz. 2012), a Houston man who worked for a Texas company operating in Mexico was on an extended work assignment for which he stayed in a hotel in Yuma. He used a rental vehicle provided by his employer to drive to the work site in Mexico each day. One evening, after returning to the hotel from work, the man decided to go to dinner with a coworker. As they were returning to the hotel, the man struck a motorcyclist when he made an improper left turn. The motorcyclist sued both the driver and his employer for the employee’s negligent action.

The Arizona Supreme Court held that the Texas man was not acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time the accident. Despite the fact that the employer paid for the employee’s hotel and rental vehicle and required him to stay in Yuma in order to work, the Supreme Court did not find that the employer had control over the employee at the time of the accident. In its ruling, the Supreme Court also adopted the Restatement (Third) of Agency’s test for respondeat superior, which in § 7.07(2) adopted control by the employer of the employee as the primary determining factor regarding whether or not the employee is acting while in the scope of their employment.

In many cases in Arizona in which a person is seriously injured by an employee who is working on the job, the employer may still be held to be vicariously liable for the losses the victim suffers. If you were injured in an accident caused by another driver or an employee of a company while they were working, contact Hirsch & Lyon Accident Law at (602) 691-7278 or click on “Schedule a Free Consultation” to schedule your initial and free consultation today.


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