Plumbers spend a lot of time using company-owned vehicles and, unfortunately, accidents do sometimes happen. If you suffer any injuries — or are at fault — here’s a breakdown of what happens next.
For plumbers and other service technicians, it’s common to be in a company-owned vehicle a lot of the time — shuttling between jobs; transporting tools, materials, and co-workers; engaging in other related professional activity, such as meetings with prospective customers. Given the frequent use of company vehicles, it’s not surprising that accidents involving such vehicles occur with unfortunate regularity.
What happens, exactly, if you — a plumber or service technician — has suffered injuries in a company-owned vehicle? As the injured party, you are likely entitled to compensation in the form of workers’ compensation and/or third-party damages.
Let’s go through some of the basics.
Potential Liability of Multiple Parties
When you have suffered injuries in a serious accident involving a company vehicle, there are usually multiple different parties (and forms of compensation) to get involved in the damage recovery efforts. Generally speaking, though, these can be broken down into two broad categories: 1. your employer, and 2. third parties. The interplay between these various elements and parties can be a bit confusing to understand, at first, so don’t be dismayed if this is unfamiliar.
Consider this example: You are driving back to the office in a company-owned truck and you stop at a red light. Suddenly, a speeding truck rear-ends you and you sustain significant neck and back injuries as a result.
Who is liable?
Regardless of the specific fault attributable to each party involved in the accident, you will likely be covered by workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation generally bars an injury lawsuit against the employer, however. That is the unique bargain of workers’ compensation.
In this example, imagine that your employer inadequately maintained and inspected the company vehicle and the airbag failed to deploy. Had the airbag deployed, you would have suffered only minor, if any, injuries. In a scenario without workers’ compensation, you might be able to sue the employer and recover damages. Given the presence of workers’ compensation, however, you will likely only be entitled to those benefits from the employer. They will cover medical expenses, wage loss, and more.
The third-party defendant — in other words, the speeding truck driver that rear-ended you at the red light — is also liable. Even if you obtain workers’ compensation benefits from your employer, you are entitled to sue the driver and recover damages on the basis of your various injury claims. These two forms of compensation are not exclusive of one another.
Qualifying for Workers’ Compensation
As employees, plumbers and service technicians are not necessarily covered by workers’ compensation in every accident involving a company-owned vehicle. Every jurisdiction has somewhat different criteria, but for the most part, workers’ compensation will be made available to employees for injuries sustained over the “course and scope” of employment.
Defining the “course and scope” of employment is difficult, and definitions vary quite a bit from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As a general rule, however, plumbers and service technicians will likely be considered to be acting within the “course and scope” of their employment while traveling in the company vehicle for any purpose related to work. For example, if you are traveling with your co-workers to a job site, you are almost certainly acting within the “course and scope” of employment.
Fault Can Be Tricky
Fault can be a finicky, difficult matter to resolve in certain circumstances. What if you caused an accident while driving a company vehicle — is there any hope of obtaining compensation for your injuries? Surprisingly, yes.
Workers’ compensation in most jurisdictions is fault-agnostic, which means that fault is irrelevant to recovery. Unless you intentionally cause an accident, you will likely be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits (if all qualifying criteria are met, of course).
If you cause an accident in a company vehicle and injure others, however, you could potentially be held liable for damages by those third-party individuals (pedestrians, drivers, passengers) who were injured as a result of your negligent acts. Fortunately, there are two ways in which you can avoid damages liability: 1. liability insurance, and 2. application of vicarious liability principles.
This terminology may be unfamiliar, but the concepts are rather simple, in practice. If your employer has liability insurance, it will likely cover any damages owed as a result of the negligent acts of employees — which includes you. As such, even if you are held liable for third-party injuries, you may be covered by your employer’s liability insurance.
Vicarious liability, on the other hand, gives the plaintiff the option of suing either you or your employer. If you do not have significant assets or personal liability insurance coverage, then many plaintiffs will opt instead to sue the employer under the theory of vicarious liability.
Plumbers and service technicians spend a great deal of time shuttling between jobs in company-owned vehicles. If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a company-owned vehicle, you may be entitled to obtain compensation in the form of workers’ compensation benefits and/or damages. Contact a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction for further guidance.
About the Authors
Salter Ferguson, LLC of Birmingham, Alabama, is a mother/daughter team of personal injury attorneys. For more information, visit www.salterferguson.com.