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What Is an Employer's Liability for a Car Accident Caused by an Employee?

If you have been seriously injured in a car accident, it may not just be the driver of the other vehicle who bears legal responsibility. For instance, if the negligent driver was operating a vehicle owned by his or her employer, the company may owe you compensation under the legal principle of vicarious liability. Alternatively, the employer may be liable for "negligent entrustment" of a vehicle to an employee who had a known record of a reputation for dangerous driving.

Does Vicarious Liability Preclude Negligent Entrustment?

But can you allege both vicarious liability and negligent entrustment? The answer is not entirely clear under Oklahoma law. Indeed, trial courts have given diverging answers.

For example, a federal judge in Oklahoma City recently held the widow of an accident victim could only pursue a claim for vicarious liability. The plaintiff's husband was killed in a collision with a truck owned by the defendant and operated by one of its employees. The defendant stipulated before the trial court the employee "was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred," meaning the company was vicariously liable for his actions.

But the defendant also challenged the plaintiff's alternative claim of liability for "negligent entrustment." The defendant pointed to a series of Oklahoma Supreme Court rulings on this subject, which held that when an employer concedes vicarious liability, a plaintiff could not pursue any other theory of liability.

In response, the plaintiff pointed to a 2013 decision where the Supreme Court said: "negligent entrustment arises from the act of entrustment, not the relationship of the parties." The plaintiff suggested this "clarification" permitted it to proceed with both its negligent entrustment and vicarious liability claims in the present case.

Although other federal judges in Oklahoma have accepted similar arguments, the judge, in this case, said he "remains unpersuaded" that the 2013 ruling marked a substantive change in the law. The judge noted the 2013 case dealt with a scenario where the employer failed to concede vicarious liability. Since the defendant, in this case, did make such a concession, the judge said he would not subject the defendant to a trial on negligent entrustment absent any "further guidance from the Oklahoma Supreme Court."

Do You Need Help From an Oklahoma Car Accident Attorney?

Establishing legal liability following a car accident is often not a simple task. There may be multiple parties involved and multiple, competing theories of liability to sort out. If you need help from a qualified Tulsa personal injury lawyer in dealing with the legal fallout from your car accident, contact the offices of Frasier, Frasier & Hickman, LLP, today.

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