When a person suffers serious, disabling injuries in an accident, it is imperative to know what the person at fault (the “tortfeasor”) was doing at the time of the accident. Typically, individual tortfeasors have limited insurance to fully compensate the more seriously injured victims for their medical bills, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering. If the tortfeasor was working within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident, then his employer will be legally responsible for his conduct. This is a concept known as “vicarious liability” (or respondeat superior, for the Latin enthusiasts out there).
It is vital that an injured individual does not act too quickly to accept the limits of a tortfeasor’s insurance in settlement of his or her bodily injury claim, as by doing so, the tortfeasor’s insurance company will require the injured person to sign a release of liability. This release has the effect of legally extinguishing any vicarious claims against the employer of the tortfeasor.
Case in point: We once represented a young man injured in a motorcycle collision. He suffered life-altering and permanent orthopedic injuries, requiring several surgeries. The tortfeasor was a woman with only $25,000 of liability insurance. We refused to settle and release her, but instead filed suit. During litigation, we learned the responsible driver was working for her employer at the time of the collision. We then added her employer to the lawsuit. We ultimately settled the case with the employer’s insurance company for the full value of our client’s damages, which was many times over the employee’s $25,000 liability insurance limit.
In a perfect world, every victim who is harmed by wrongful conduct of another will be fully compensated for their losses. But the world in which we live is far from perfect. Often times, through litigation we can obtain answers that help our clients better understand how they were victimized in the first place, and be fully compensated for their losses.