Q: Employee causes a car accident during work hours due to being under the influence of narcotics is the company liable?
Employee was also under suspicion of using drugs but Employer ignored reports from coworkers.
As with most legal questions, the answer is "it depends". Under New York Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 388, owners and operators of vehicles are jointly and severally liable if the vehicle is involved in an accident under most circumstances. If the employee had permission to drive the vehicle at the time of the accident, and the company owned it, the company is most likely liable for the accident. Also, under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for the negligent and tortious actions of its employee if the employee injures someone while acting in the course of his or her employment. Thus, if the employee who caused this accident was on the clock at the time of the accident, and especially if he or she was driving a company car, the employer is most likely liable for any damage caused by the employee.
Whether or not the employee was under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident is generally an aggravating factor, rather than a dispositive legal issue. That means that it only makes things worse for the employer if the employer is liable under VTL 388 and/or respondeat superior as cited above. Application of liability under those doctrines does not turn on whether or not the employee was under the influence, or whether the employer knew about that at the time of the accident.
So, in sum, it is very likely that the employer will be responsible for the damage caused by the employee in this situation if he/she was operating a company car at the time, or was acting in the course of his employment when the accident occurred. The fact that the employee was high at the time will only make matters worse for the employer, especially if the employer was aware of the employees penchant for drug use on the job.
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