Some of my previous posts have covered topics of West Virginia car accident law by going over jury instructions that have been proposed by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals for jury trials in car accident cases in West Virginia. In this posts I will go over some jury instructions – and hence West Virginia law – regarding situations where employees and owners of vehicles can be liable for the negligent or reckless acts of the person driving the vehicle. These are instructions on the law that are given to the jury by the judge after the trial, but prior to their deliberations. The purpose is to tell the jury what the law is, so that they can apply their findings of fact to existing West Virginia law.
Employer’s Liability for Employee’s Negligence
An employer is liable for all damages proximately caused by the negligence of his employee who is acting within the scope of his employment.
An employee is acting within the course of his employment when he is engaged in doing, for his employer, either the act directed by the employer or any act which can fairly and reasonably be deemed to be a natural, direct and logical result of the act directed by the employer. If in doing such an act the employee acts negligently, that is negligence within the course of the employment.
In order to recover against (name of employer), the plaintiff has the burden of proving by the greater weight of the evidence that (name of employee) was the employee of (name of employer), that (name of employee) was negligent while acting within the scope of his employment, and that this negligence proximately caused damage to the plaintiff.
Courtless v. Jolliffee, 507 S.E.2d 136 (W.Va. 1998)
Liability of Corporation for Acts of Employees, Agents, or Officers
A corporation acts by and through its officers, agent, and employees, and if you find that an officer, agent or employee of the defendant corporation, ___________________ was negligent in the performance of his duties, then such negligence is attributable to the corporation and considered negligence on the part of such corporation, including the failure to comply with applicable automobile and road safety laws.
Family Vehicles – a.k.a., the “Family Purpose Doctrine”
When the owner of a motor vehicle purchases and maintains an automobile for his family’s comfort, convenience, pleasure, entertainment and recreation, then any family member who uses the automobile for such purposes is regarded as the agent of the owner. Consequently, if a family member operates the automobile in a negligent manner the owner of the automobile will be liable for damages sustained by a third person which occurred as a result from the negligent operator of the vehicle.
Cole v. Fairchild, 482 S.E.2d 913 (W.Va. 1996)
A Defense to Employee/Owner Liability is Alleging the Driver was an “Independent Contractor”
If ___________ was acting as an independent contractor, then D________ has no responsibility for _________’s acts. If _______is an agent of D _______ , then ____________ is responsible for any of _________’s negligent acts. Whether or not ________is an independent contractor or agent depends on whether D__________controlled, or had the right to control, the work of _________. Control in this sense means the right to determine where and in what manner the work would be done. It does not matter that D___________ never actually exercised control over _________, as long as D_________ reserved to itself the right to do so.
If you find that D________ had the right to control the work of ___________, and then D__________ is liable for any negligent acts or omissions of ________’s employees, including their failure to comply with applicable automobile and road safety laws.
Paxtori. v. Crabtree, 184 W.Va. 237, 400 S.E.2d 245, 252 (W.Va. 1990) Sanders v. Georae of Pacific, 159 W.Va. 621, 225 S.E.2d 218 (W.Va. 1976)
You can visit the Supreme Court’s website to view the jury instructions in full here.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney.