What to do if an employee was using a company vehicle without authorization and had an accident for which he is trying to sue us for his injuries?

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What to do if an employee was using a company vehicle without authorization and had an accident for which he is trying to sue us for his injuries?

I own a lawncare company. I allowed an employee to borrow a work vehicle when his vehicle was not running. I gave him the restriction that he was only to drive home from work Friday and back to work Monday,and clearly stated this in front of 3 other employees. However, I received a call Saturday that he had been involved in an accident and was caught trying to flee. He went through 3 lawns, hit a mailbox and a parked vehicle, exited through a ditch and tried to flee. The police apprehended him stopped at a stop sign a mile away. He told the officer that the vehicle brakes failed. We have a statement from mechanic that the brakes were in working order at time of accident. We won a civil judgement of $6000 for damage. Now he is trying to sue us for “injuries”?

Asked on August 6, 2014 under Personal Injury, Michigan

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

Even if he used the vehicle beyond the hours you had given him permission to use it, IF there was a problem with the brakes that you were either aware  of, and refused to fix, or for which you should be responsible because you failed to do regular or proper maintenance, you may be liable for his injuries. However, to win any suit, he'll have to prove: 1) there was a problem with the brakes; 2) that problem and not, say, his own negligence (e.g. driving carelessly) caused the accident; and 3) it is the sort of problem your business should be liable for, because you were "at fault" in some way.

If he can't show that--e.g. he can't  show that there was a problem with the brakes, as appears to the case from what you write; or even if there was a problem, if you maintained the vehicle properly and had no warning of a problem, so you would not be at fault--he should not be able to win. Moreover, even if there, for the sake of argument, may be liability against you, if he was also liable (e.g. the brakes were a little "spongy" to feel, but even feeling that problem, he kept driving, which is careless), that liability would offset and reduce what you might be responsible for financially.

And, of course, even if he got past all those hurdles, he'd have to prove that his injuries came from the accident and the extent and cost of his injuries in order to recover. In short, it appears there are significant bars to his being able to recover money from you.


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