Any Maryland personal injury lawyer will tell you that on a typical day driving on Maryland’s roads, any motorist is likely to be sharing the road with a variety of business vehicles. As a matter of law, the drivers of these business vehicles are said to be agents of the companies that employ them. After all, in most cases, they wouldn’t be on the road in such a vehicle unless they were under the direction of their bosses.
Therefore, if you are struck by a motorist who is driving a vehicle bearing some kind of business logo or insignia, there’s a good chance that the business, and not the employee driver, will be ultimately liable for the injuries you sustained. This legal concept is called respondeat superior, and it is the source for a significant amount of motor tort liability claims.
A recently decided Maryland case, Barclay v. Briscoe v. Ports America Baltimore, Inc., No. 41, September Term 2011, tested the limits of respondeat superior. A Baltimore dock worker, having just worked a 22-hour shift, was driving home after clocking out. Fatigued from his exceptionally long shift, the worker fell asleep at the wheel and drifted into an adjacent lane, striking another motorist. Both the worker and the motorist sustained significant injuries as a result.
The motorist’s attorney concocted an unusual argument: that the dock worker’s employer was responsible for the accident. Although the worker was not driving the vehicle on any official company business, he was, the attorney argued, operating under a sleep-deprived and impaired state that was created by the company. In having the worker work a 22-hour shift, the attorney argued, the company assumed the risk that the employee would create a danger to himself and other motorists if he was allowed to drive.
The Maryland Court of Appeals dismissed the argument and declined to assign any liability to the company, stating that doing so would have implicitly created an unintended labor limitation. When the dust cleared in this case, the company’s actions were too far removed from the employee’s actions, and no court could reasonably impose liability on the company in such a case.
Most Maryland motor tort lawyers would say that although this case is interesting for its novelty, it very much departs from the typical auto accident situation. In most cases, there is little doubt as to the employer-employee relationship or that the employee was working within the scope of his or her employment when he or she struck the plaintiff.
As an auto accident victim, Maryland accident attorneys want you to know your rights. Companies who maintain a fleet of vehicles also typically maintain comprehensive tort liability insurance policies for all their vehicles and drivers. As a result, respondeat superior is an appropriate legal remedy for many lawful drivers who were injured as a result of someone else’s negligence.
Maryland car accident lawyers are familiar with these kinds of claims, and can help evaluate your chances of recovering against the at-fault company. If you find yourself in such a situation, consult an attorney who knows the best way to get the money you deserve.
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