In 2017 alone, there were 6,452,000 car accidents in the United States that were reported to the police. 2,746,000 people were injured in these crashes — and another 37,133 people were killed. These accidents were caused by a variety of factors, from speeding to distracted driving to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
If you’re involved in a collision when driving your own car, on your own time, you may understand the basics of what will happen next. Depending on the facts of the case, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit — or the other driver may file a claim against you. But what happens if you’re driving a company car and get into an accident?
These types of situations are generally more complex than a typical motor vehicle wreck. For example, if you were hurt, there may be a question of whether your injuries will be covered by workers’ compensation. If you have been involved in an accident involving a company car, you will need a New Jersey workers’ comp attorney to help you figure out what to do next.
Who Covers Damages?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), work-related car accidents cost employers $25 billion. But just because you are in a collision involving a company car does not mean that your employer will be on the hook for damages.
Generally, an employer will be responsible for any damages that their workers cause when acting within the scope of their employment. When you are acting on your employer’s behalf, the legal doctrine of respondeat superior (also known as vicarious liability) holds that an employer is responsible for the property damage and injuries caused by the actions of their employees. For example, if you are using the company vehicle to pay a visit to a customer and rear-end another car, then your employer will be liable for property damage, medical bills, and other losses. Typically, these losses are paid by the employer’s insurance company.
However, there are situations when your employer (or their insurance company) will not cover the damages that you cause in a car accident with the company car. This includes any situation where you are not acting within the scope of employment, such as:
- Engaging in criminal activity, such as driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs;
- Using the company car for personal errands, which is known as “going on a frolic;”
- Engaging in non-business activity, such as for recreational or personal travel beyond business hours.
In addition, if you are an independent contractor rather than an employee, your employer may not be responsible for any damages that you cause if you are in an accident. For example, if you lease a big rig from your employer, and wreck while driving it, your employer probably will not be responsible for the damages. In most cases, these situations are governed by contracts that spell out the responsibilities of each party in the event of an accident.
In some cases, you may be required to use your personal vehicle to conduct company business. This can create complications, as both your own auto insurance company and your employer’s car insurance carrier may dispute coverage. For this reason, it may be smart to purchase a rider for your insurance policy.
A rider adds an additional layer of coverage in the event that you are in a vehicle accident while driving your vehicle on company business. While this will add to your premium, your employer may be willing to reimburse you for this amount. Having a rider will eliminate the possibility that neither insurance company will pick up the tab for an accident that you are involved in while driving your car for your job.
Are You Eligible for Workers’ Compensation If You Wreck the Company Car?
There are two types of insurance coverage that may come into play when you have an accident in the company car. Liability insurance — through your employer’s general liability and commercial vehicle insurance policy — will pay for any damages that are sustained by a third party, such as the driver and passengers in the other vehicle. Workers’ compensation insurance will cover any injuries that employees suffer in the accident.
If you are hurt at work, you are typically limited to filing a workers’ compensation claim. There are some exceptions to this general rule, such as situations where your employer acts intentionally or a third party (like the manufacturer of the car) was negligent in some way.
Under New Jersey law, to be eligible for workers’ compensation, your injury must be work-related. In other words, you must have been injured in the course of your employment in order to be eligible for coverage. This can happen in a number of ways while you are driving the company car, such as:
- Making deliveries
- Running work-related errands
- Transporting another employee
- Driving for a living
- Work-related travel
In most cases, you cannot file a workers’ compensation claim for an accident that occurred during your regular commute to the office. However, if you were performing a work-related duty during this commute, then you may be eligible for benefits.
In a workers’ compensation claim, you will not need to prove that your employer did something wrong in order for you to recover, as workers’ comp is a no-fault system. This is particularly important in cases where you were the responsible party in a company car accident. The personal injury system is based on fault, so you would not be able to recover in a civil lawsuit — yet you may still be able to file a workers’ comp claim for your injuries.
When Do You Need an Attorney?
Insurance companies are for-profit businesses. Their primary goal is to make money, not to pay you the most money for your claim. As a result, both liability and workers’ compensation insurers will deny, delay, and minimize claims related to company car crashes.
There are certain exceptions in New Jersey’s workers’ compensation laws where an employee may not receive benefits for an on-the-job injury. An employee who intentionally hurts themselves fails to use protective devices furnished by the employer, or who is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol when the injury occurs may not receive benefits. Insurance companies may use these exceptions to try to argue against covering a workers’ comp claim.
Even in a case that doesn’t fall into one of these limited exceptions, the insurance company will use a number of tactics to deny your claim. This may include having you followed by an investigator to prove that you are exaggerating or lying about the extent of your injuries, or requesting that you attend an independent medical examination (IME) to contest the extent of your injuries.
A skilled New Jersey workers’ comp attorney can fight back against these types of arguments by thoroughly investigating your accident and putting together a strong legal and factual case for compensation. Your lawyer will advocate for you throughout the process, working to get you the benefits that you are entitled to under the law.
In addition, an attorney can help untangle the issues surrounding liability for damages in the crash. They will protect your interests, and stand by your side throughout the process.
How We Can Help
Work-related auto accidents can be incredibly complicated, involving multiple insurance companies and claims by any number of policies. There are often questions of who exactly is responsible for property damage and injuries caused in the accident, and whether you can file a claim for workers’ compensation.
Since 1995, the law firm of Bross & Frankel has represented injured employees in all types of workers’ compensation cases, including claims where an employee crashed a company car. We have the skill and knowledge to effectively advocate for your rights. To schedule a free claim review, contact our office today at 856-795-8880, or email us at any time.