It is a longstanding rule in Georgia that employers are “vicariously liable” for torts committed by their employees. In other words, if you are hit by a delivery van that runs a red light, you can sue the company that employs that driver for damages. But there is an important caveat to this rule–the driver must have been “acting within the scope of his employment” at the time of the accident. If the driver was actually running a personal errand, even in a company-owned car, then the employer is not legally responsible.
Mannion & Mannion, Inc. v. Mendez
A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Mannion & Mannion, Inc. v. Mendez, illustrates what we are talking about. This personal injury case arose from a March 2016 auto accident. A mechanic, one of the defendants here, left his employer’s business to take his lunch break. The mechanic did not have a set lunch time and did not have to “clock out”; he simply told his co-workers he was leaving.
The mechanic left his employer’s building in his girlfriend’s car. He took a work-related call while in the car but was not otherwise acting on his employer’s behalf. While driving, the defendant struck another vehicle, injuring the plaintiff in this case.
The plaintiff sued both the mechanic and his employer, the latter under the rule of vicarious liability. The employer moved for summary judgment, arguing that at the time of the collision, the mechanic was not acting within the scope of his employment. The trial judge denied the employer’s motion but granted it permission to file an immediate appeal.
After reviewing the case, the Court of Appeals said the defendant was, as a matter of law, entitled to summary judgment. The appeals court said the uncontested evidence showed the mechanic was on his lunch break when he hit the plaintiff. This was, by definition, a personal errand unrelated to his job.
The plaintiff did argue there was evidence suggesting the mechanic was actually on his way to pick up a part for his employer. If true, that would at least create a contested issue with respect to vicarious liability. But the Court of Appeals said that all the plaintiff could offer on this point was “conjecture and speculation.” For example, the plaintiff could only establish the mechanic was “driving in the direction of the parts distributor” just before the accident. And even though the employer “could call employees on their lunch break and instruct them to run an errand or return to work,” there was no evidence suggesting this happened on the day in question.
More to the point, the defense offered testimony from multiple employees who said they heard the mechanic say he was leaving to take his lunch break. As for picking up a part, a representative of the distributor testified they made arrangements to deliver the item–again confirming the mechanic was not on his way to pick it up.