Massachusetts Appellate Court Highlights the Importance of Knowing your Liability Exposure when Loaning Vehicles to Employees

Many employers allow employees to use vehicles for work-related purposes. Although some of them understand that this exposes them to liability if the employee is involved in a crash, others fail to understand the risks. Our seasoned team of Boston car accident lawyers are prepared to help you protect yourself in an accident involving a third-party who was using your vehicle.

In a recent appellate case (the “Case”), the Massachusetts Court of Appeal discusses this issue. In the Case, the owner of a restaurant allowed employees to use his vehicle to get to and from their homes and the restaurant. The owner required some employees to sign an agreement that limited the use of the vehicle to get to and from work. Under Massachusetts law, employers are liable for the tortious acts that their employees commit under the course and scope of employment. This concept is known as vicarious liability. One morning, one of the employees assisted another individual with jump-starting his car.

The employee removed the cables and lowered the hood of the restaurant owner’s car at which time it accelerated and struck the owner of the other car that was being jumped. The victim filed a claim for negligence and alleged that the restaurant owner was legally responsible as the owner of the vehicle that caused his injuries.

The jury concluded that the employee acted negligently, and that the owner was vicariously liable for the injuries as the owner of the vehicle. The vehicle owner appealed arguing that the lower court erred in denying his motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and his motion for a new trial. The appellate court ultimately upheld the lower court’s denial of both motions on the basis that the jury had sufficient evidence to conclude that he should be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. The fact that his name was on the registration for the vehicle was prima facie evidence, according to the appellate court.

Also, the jury heard evidence from the employee that he was driving to work when the crash took place and that the accident happened when he was continuing on his way to work after jump-starting the vehicle. Had the vehicle owner been able to present some evidence that the employee was not authorized to use the vehicle to jump other cars, the result may have been different. Also, if the owner could have shown that the employee was using the vehicle for an unauthorized reason such as running personal errands, going to doctor’s appointments, or picking up children from school the owner may not have been held liable.

If you are involved in a car accident, it is important to understand your rights and to know whether you are entitled to compensation. Holding the people responsible for your injuries is a critical step in moving on after a sudden and inexcusable car accident. Our seasoned team of Boston car accident lawyers offers a free consultation to help you understand your rights and how we may be able to assist you. Call us now at 617-263-0060 or contact us online to get started.