When can an employer be held liable for the acts of employees when the employee injures someone else?

The law states that when an employee is acting in the course and scope of his or her employment and injures another person that person can sue not only the employee but the employer also. This is known as the doctrine of Respondeat Superior.

In the case of the City of Houston v. Lal, (2020), a police officer who was off duty but “on call,” and who was distracted from driving when he reached to answer a phone call that might have been a call to duty, was acting in the scope of his employment at the time of accident, for purposes of the employer’s respondeat superior liability to a third party motorist injured in the resulting accident.

It is often hard to know when an employee who is “on call” is working in the course and scope of his employment. This case shows how important it is to determine if the person who injures you might be in the course and scope of their employment. For example if you are hurt in an automobile accident you might just assume that the person who hit you was acting on their personal time, but what if they were on call when they injured you. Why is this important? Because most insurance that covers businesses is high (many times over a million dollars) while individual policies are usually only 25-30 thousand dollars.

I often see people in El Paso, Texas and New Mexico who are seriously injured go to lawyers who are just running through lots of car wreck clients and basically taking small amounts or just the “policy limits” of the other driver without doing a more in depth discovery of if the other driver was in the course and scope of employment. This case illustrates how important that is, because police liability in this type of case is $250,000.00 while the individual policy of the police officer was probably only 25 or 30 thousand dollars. In other words, by proving this police officer was in the course and scope of his employment the injured driver could have increased his recovery by up to 10 times. In other case it could be even more.

In small injuries this inquiry is not important and lawyers who advertise on TV about car wrecks are probably fine, but if someone is seriously injured or killed you really need to seek out a lawyer who knows how to find out if there is more insurance coverage because the negligent driver was in the course and scope of his employment.

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