If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, you may be able to seek damages against the employer of the negligent driver. New York law holds an employer liable for any personal injury caused by an employee in the “scope of his or her employment.” A common example would be a driver getting into an accident while making a delivery for her employer. In contrast, if the employee is not acting within the scope of employment—say, the accident occurs while the employee is commuting home from work—then the employer is generally not liable.
Defining the scope of employment is especially important when the employer happens to be a government agency. This is because the federal and state governments have sovereign immunity, which means they cannot be sued without their consent. The United States government provides such consent in limited circumstances under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). This means if you are injured by a federal employee acting within the scope of his employment, you may sue the United States government for damages.
Judge Says USDA Not Liable for Employee's Negligence
Recently, a federal judge in upstate New York addressed such a claim. The case involves an accident caused by an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The employee is from Rochester but was temporarily assigned to a USDA office in Delaware County. The employee resided at a local hotel during the work week and drove his personal vehicle to and from the office. As his job required him to make periodic trips to another USDA office in Oneonta, his supervisor allowed him the use of a government vehicle during the workday. The employee was not allowed to drive the government vehicle home—that is, to his hotel—without first filing a written request requiring the supervisor approval.
On the night of the accident, the employee was driving his government vehicle back to his hotel. Three minutes before leaving the office, the employee emailed his supervisor the authorization form. The employee did not wait for a response before leaving. On his way home, he got into an accident, seriously injuring the other driver. According to the New York State police, the employee caused the accident in the course of improperly executing a right turn into the hotel's parking lot.
The victim filed suit in federal court against the employee and the United States government under the FTCA. The government moved to dismiss, arguing it was not responsible for the employee's unauthorized use of its vehicle at the time of the accident. The court agreed. In a September 23opinion, the judge said the undisputed facts demonstrated the employee “was not acting in furtherance of the duties he owed to his employer, and that the USDA was not and could not have been exercising direct or indirect control over his activities.”
Need Help Following an Accident?The victim here is not without potential relief, as he may still pursue a claim in the New York courts directly against the negligent employee. But this case illustrates the difficulty in establishing an employer's liability, especially when it is a government employer. That is why if you have been in a car accident, it is important you seek assistance from a qualified New York personal injury attorney. Contact the offices of Waldhauser & Nisar, LLP, today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.