Determining Responsibility in South Carolina Car Crashes

October 5, 2016

Recently, a South Carolina resident tragically lost her life in a car crash when another driver operating a company car crossed the centerline and struck her SUV head-on. The victim’s four year old grandson, who was also a passenger, suffered a broken nose, a broken pelvis, and head trauma. The responsible party is facing felony DUI charges and the victim’s family is considering taking legal recourse against the driver and his employer based on the legal theory of vicarious liability. Determining when the doctrine of vicarious liability is appropriate can be difficult, so if you are a South Carolina resident and you were injured in a car crash, it is important to retain the services of an experienced Columbia, SC car accident attorney who can help you identify all responsible parties and obtain the compensation you deserve.


The Scope of Employment


The doctrine of vicarious liability can only be applied in situations where an employee caused a car accident while operating within the scope of employment. In these situations, the employer is considered to be the principal who directs the actions of an agent, or employee to act on his or her behalf. Thus, when an employee is negligent, that negligence can be attributed to the employer as well.


Courts use the motive, or purpose test to determine whether an employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment. This requires an assessment of whether it can be reasonably assumed that the employee’s primary motive in acting was to further his or her employer’s interests. If the answer to this query is affirmative, then the employee will be considered to have been acting within the scope of employment, making his or her employer liable for any damages.


For example, if an employee causes an accident while driving to a client’s office to drop off a contract, the employer will be vicariously liable for any damages because the employee was acting within the course of employment. However, if the employee decides to run personal errands while using the company car, he or she will most likely be held solely responsible for the accident.


Negligent Hiring and Supervision


In South Carolina, employers are required to use reasonable care when hiring or supervising an employee. This means that it is the responsibility of employers to exercise due diligence in ensuring that their employees are safe drivers during the hiring process. Before hiring someone to drive a vehicle belonging to the company, employers must also take additional precautions, including:


  • Ensuring that applicants have an appropriate license that has not been revoked or suspended;
  • Checking each applicant’s driving record; and
  • Performing drug tests.


State law also requires employers to create and implement policies requiring their employees to comply with safety standards. If an employer fails to take precautions to ensure that drivers use reasonable care when operating a vehicle, he or she can be held liable. One of the more common scenarios in which this theory arises is when an employer hires a truck driver, but fails to ensure that the employee follows logging procedures or properly loads and secures cargo as required by federal and state law. This constitutes a failure to take reasonable care in supervising employees and as a result, the employer will be responsible for monetary damages.


Negligent Entrustment


Employers are not the only people who can be held liable for injuries caused by another driver. For instance, a car owner who lends his or her vehicle to an unsafe driver may also be held liable for any car crash that person caused. This doctrine is most often applied in situations where parents allowed one of their minor children to drive a vehicle and the teen later caused an accident. Often referred to as the family purpose doctrine, this legal theory ensures that those who are injured in accidents caused by minors are still able to recover for the harm they suffered.


Establishing Liability


To establish that an employer negligently hired or supervised an employee who later caused a car accident, victims must still prove the standard elements of negligence. This means that plaintiffs must prove that:


  • The defendant owed a duty of care to the victim;
  • The defendant breached that duty; and
  • The breach caused the victim’s injury or property damage.


Employers owe a duty of care to third parties when the harm caused by their employees, such as a car crash, could have been reasonably anticipated. Once these elements have been established, victims may be able to obtain recovery for their losses.


Potential Damages


Car crashes can have devastating physical and financial effects on victims with injuries ranging from minor scratches and bruises to broken bones and head trauma. While some of these injuries may be easy and relatively inexpensive to treat, others require ongoing medical care, physical therapy, and multiple surgeries. Some victims are unable to return to work or must take extended leaves of absence. This can wreak havoc on a family’s finances, especially when the household is supported by a single income. Fortunately, successful plaintiffs can recover medical costs, lost wages, and other expenses from the responsible parties, including:


  • Loss of future income;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Pain and suffering; and
  • Property damage.


While obtaining compensation can’t always return a victim to the life he or she led before the accident, it can go a long way towards beginning the process of recovery.


Contact a Dedicated South Carolina Car Accident Attorney Today


If you live in the Columbia area and you were recently involved in a car crash in which you sustained an injury, it is vital to seek the advice of an attorney who can explain what is required to obtain compensation for the harm you suffered. Please contact the Connell Law Firm by filling out one of our standard online contact forms, which includes providing your name, email address, phone number, and a brief summary of your case. A member of our dedicated Columbia car accident legal team will then contact you as soon as possible to schedule an initial consultation.