More than a decade ago, temporary workers in Nevada allegedly stole a company’s truck. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the workers then drove drunk, striking and killing a 58-year-old woman. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several defendants, including companies owned by Terrible Herbst, the business that owned the truck.
A jury initially ruled that the businesses owed $14.1 million in damages to the family. The driver of the vehicle was found to be only 25 percent liable for the incident. An attorney for Terrible Herbst requested and received a reduction in the amount of punitive damages owed.
The case raises an interesting question of when companies can be held liable for their employees’ wrongdoings. Generally, courts may abide by the legal principle known as respondeat superior, which means, “let the master answer.” Under Nevada law, an employer may be liable for an employee’s actions if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her job. The scope of employment could include the following:
- The activity that caused the injury was a task the worker was hired to do.
- The injury occurred while the employee was working.
- The company that employed the worker benefitted from the activity that was performed at the time of the injury.
In the case of Terrible Herbst, the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that the business knew that the driver had an issue with drinking and also had previously been convicted of drunk driving.
Businesses facing vicarious liability lawsuits could try to demonstrate that the workers were not acting within the scope of employment at the time of the incident. Additionally, companies are not responsible for the actions of independent contractors. Therefore, challenging the worker’s status could prove to be a valid defense.