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Are you liable for the actions of your drivers?

As a business owner in New York, you likely understand that you will often be viewed as being responsible for the actions of your employees. The nature of certain professions may ensure that the potential for it practitioners to cause extensive damage is limited. Yet if you work in the trucking or transportation injuries, then negligent actions on the part of your employees could potentially be catastrophic. The question then becomes in what scenarios would you be liable for it. 

According to the Cornell Law School, the legal principle of respondeat superior allows employers to be held responsible for the actions of their employees. Such third-party liability is conditional, however. Your employee must be acting within the scope of his or her employment in order for you to be liable. Indeed, the New York Supreme Court has established the test of applying to respondeat superior to a case the be when "the tortious conduct is generally foreseeable and a natural incident of the employment." 

So what does this mean? Say that you employ a truck driver, and that while completing a route, that driver causes an accident. The completion of the route is a natural function of the driver's job. Furthermore, that the driver could be involved in an accident is foreseeable. In such a case, then, you might be held liable. 

Yet what if your truck driver caused the accident as they were returning home, or involved in some other "off the clock" activity. Given that they were not acting as your agent at the time, it might be difficult to assign liability to you. You might also be immune from the principle of respondeat superior altogether if your drivers are considered to be independent contractors. 

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