In a recent blog post, we discussed a Chicago Tribune report about an accident involving an over-tired semi truck driver who killed a tollway worker and badly injured an Illinois state trooper along Interstate 88 in late January. In a follow up story, the Chicago Tribune reported that the injured trooper, Douglas Balder, in conjunction with his wife, Kimberli Balder, have together as co-plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, Renato Velaquez.
The suit is also being brought against the driver’s employer, DND International, Inc., under the negligence theory of respondeat superior. The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court, and alleges that the trooper sustained a fractured clavicle and fractured ribs, as well as suffered burns to his body and multiple lacerations to the head and face as a result of the accident.
Velasquez is accused of operating a commercial vehicle while fatigued for more than 14 continuous hours, failing to reduce his speed while driving, and failing to yield to stationary emergency vehicles. DND International is accused of failing to inspect Velasquez’s daily status reports and failing to properly supervise him to ensure he was in compliance with federal and local safety regulations while operating the vehicle on behalf of the company.
Respondeat superior is a liability theory where the employer is liable for the actions of the employee that occur within the scope of the employment relationship. It is most often times based on the concept of vicarious liability. An employer can be held vicariously liable for the actions of an employee when the employee makes a small detour from the assigned task. For instance, if an employee is tasked with driving along Interstate 88 from Davenport to Chicago to make a delivery, the driver is still within the scope of his employment if he makes a minor deviation from this route, for example, a brief stop in St. Charles, even if the detour is for his own purpose. However, a detour that is a substantial deviation from the task, for example, a side trip to Peoria, is a frolic by the employee’s own design, and the employer is no longer held responsible for the employee’s actions.
However, an employer can be liable for negligence by his or her own actions, in addition to or apart from being vicariously liable through the actions of its employees. For instance, if, as in the Trooper’s lawsuit discussed above, if the employer, DND International, fails to adequately supervise its employee drivers, or fails to implement systems and precautions to protect against employees driving for too many hours without sleep, the employer may be found negligent, separate and apart from the employee’s actions.
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