An employer is charged with hiring responsible and safe employees. If a personal injury occurs because of an employee, is the employer liable? Can an employer be sued for the actions of an employee?
In most situations, the answer is yes. Georgia law says that if an employee is on the job and/or working for his or her employer at the time he or she negligently hurts someone else, the employer is responsible for the employee’s negligence. The legal doctrine of respondeat superior “holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency.”
The most common example is when an employee is driving somewhere for the job, and he or she causes a wreck that hurts somebody else. In this case, the employer will be liable for any property damage and personal injuries caused by the negligent employee. Another example is when an employee mops or waxes the floor, fails to put out a caution sign, and then a customer slips and falls. The employer or business owner will be responsible for the employee’s conduct in creating a hazard and not informing others about it.
Employers also can be sued for an employee’s bad acts when the employer fails to exercise reasonable diligence in hiring and keeping employees. Consider this example: A hotel hires a new employee for maintenance; however, the new hire has a criminal history involving violence. If he loses his temper and attacks a guest, the hotel could be liable under a negligent hiring theory. In cases involving these claims, courts usually look at whether the employee has done anything in the past that should’ve given the employer notice of the employee’s bad behavior. If the injured party can show a pattern of prior bad conduct, his or her claim against the employer for negligent hiring and/or retention will be even stronger.
When an employer is brought into a personal injury claim, it most likely will be covered by a commercial insurance policy that provides more coverage than an average personal policy. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case because some businesses fail to obtain liability insurance. Employers always should purchase adequate commercial liability insurance to protect themselves from situations where they might be on the hook for their employee’s negligence.
– Joel Williams is a partner at Williams|Elleby, a Kennesaw-based personal injury law firm. www.gatrialattorney.com.