Auto Accident Costs San Francisco Company Millions: The Law of Employer Liability

Two recent settlements illustrate the point that employers can be responsible for the actions of their employees who cause personal injury auto accidents. In one recent case, San Francisco based PG& E agreed to pay the mother of a college student $5,000,000.00 to settle a wrongful death claim in Santa Clara County. The employee, who was diabetic, passed out causing the fatal accident. In another case, the family of Jose Vega received an award of $7,000,000.00 whose death was caused when a Verizon employee was driving on the wrong side of the road on Highway 101, causing the death of Mr. Vega. In both instances, the employees were on the job when the accidents occurred. Therefore, the employers were responsible for all of the harm caused by their employees.

This legal principle which holds the employer responsible for the acts of their employees goes back to old English times where the master was responsible for the wrongs of his servants. It was known by the Latin term “respondeat superior.” Today it is simply called “vicarious liability.” The rule is not limited to situations where the employee is actually on the job. The employer may also be responsible for the employee’s wrongdoing outside of normal work hours if the employee is on a special errand for the employer or must use a company car as part of his job.

As a bay area personal injury lawyer who has represented San Francisco personal injury accident victims over the years, I have noticed a trend. Employers are requiring their employees to do more and more work from home and on weekends. More frequently they are required to use their own person vehicle in their work. This broadens the scope of the employer’s responsibility if their employees get in auto accidents which cause serious injuries. In investigating Oakland auto accidents, it is crucial to investigate all of the facts to determine whether the responsible driver was employed at the time of the accident and whether the employer bears any responsibility.


PG&E to pay bereaved mother $5 million in wrongful death lawsuit, Mercury news, July 6, 2010

Wrong-Way Driver Victim’s Family Awarded $7 Million, Santa Barbara Independent, July 1, 2010

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