Companies usually are liable for injuries caused by workers who are "acting within the scope of employment." You're not liable when they cause injuries on their own free time. But what about gray areas, when workers run personal errands while on company business?
A recent court ruling raises your risk in such cases, saying you may be liable when employees make a slight detour while on company business.
The case: While driving to deliver a vendor's gift, a drug-store manager tried to pull into a gas station to ask about some personal car-repair work. He crashed into another car and injured the other driver.
A federal appeals court held the company liable, saying that a "proportionally slight or expectable deviation will not relieve an employer of vicarious liability ... except where the deviation is gross." (O'Shea v. Welch, American Drug Stores Inc., et.al., No. 02-3343, 10th Cir., 2003)
Advice: To protect yourself in those situations, draft a clear policy that outlines what employees can and can't do within the scope of their jobs, including conducting personal business on company time. If necessary, use courier services to make deliveries.
Finally, make sure employees have a valid driver's license, safe driving record and adequate auto insurance before asking them to drive. Consider carrying insurance that's typically called "employer's nonowned automobile liability," which can protect your company from damages caused by your employees' vehicles.
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