Special Circumstances Exempting Employer Liability in Georgia

In Georgia personal injury cases, vicarious liability laws establish that an employer could be liable for the acts of its employees if the employee causes injury to another while working within the scope of the business. The employer is liable when the employee was serving the employer’s interests in furtherance of the employer’s business and within the scope of his employment.

In a recent Court of Appeals of Georgia case, the court considered a vicarious liability claim. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant worked at the grill for a local deli and assisted with catering deliveries. If the defendant were scheduled to make one or more deliveries, he would get to work early to prepare the grill before making the delivery with his own car. Because the defendant was an hourly employee, he was only paid when he was clocked in, and often had to seek permission to come in early to make a delivery. When the defendant made a delivery, the employer would cover the cost of gas, in addition to paying the defendant his regular hourly wage.

On the day of the accident, the defendant was called in to make a catering delivery despite a local state of emergency due to a winter storm. On his way to prepare the grill before taking the delivery, the defendant lost control of his car and crashed into a vehicle that was parked on the road’s shoulder, killing his brother-in-law as well as another man.

The man’s wife filed suit against the defendant and his employer under respondeat superior, among other claims. The defendant’s employer moved for summary judgment and argued that the defendant was not acting in the scope of his employment. Further, the employer claimed that employers are generally not liable for their employees for conduct that occurs during a commute, unless there were special circumstances or the employee was on a special mission. The trial court found no special circumstances because the defendant was commuting to work, but there would be a question as to whether the defendant was on a special mission.

On appeal, the court sided with the defendant and found that there were no special circumstances that would warrant liability. Because the defendant was making his usual commute to the deli in his own car and had not yet clocked in, he was not being paid for the time it took him to commute. In addition, the court held that there were no special circumstances that would amount to a special mission because the defendant was already scheduled to work his regular shift that morning, so it did not matter that the defendant was asked to make a catering delivery.

In Georgia, in the absence of special circumstances, an employee commuting to and from work in their own car does not create liability for the employer. Such a trip is typically considered to be for the employee’s personal purposes. However, the employer could be held liable if the employee was carrying work materials, using a mobile device for work-related calls, or if the employee was “on call.” When an employee is simply performing their duty to arrive on time for their regular shift, this does not count as a special circumstance or special mission.

Do You Need a Georgia Personal Injury Attorney?

If you or someone you love has been recently injured or killed in a Georgia car accident where the at-fault party was on the job, contact the attorneys at McAleer Law today. Our lawyers have years of experience representing clients in all types of claims and will help to get you the compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 404-622-5337.