An Appeals Court Revives a Wrongful Death Case Arising from a Rollover Crash

An Appeals Court Revives a Wrongful Death Case Arising from a Rollover Crash

Vehicle accidents causing serious injuries can be life-altering events for those hurt. These injuries may create a need for significant compensation, but getting that recovery may be challenging to secure. If the only defendant in your case is a single individual with little or no wealth, you might receive only a fraction of what you need. Getting appropriate compensation may require identifying and successfully suing additional parties. An experienced Santa Barbara car accident lawyer can help you ensure you've done everything to maximize your chances of getting everything you're owed.

One of the more common additional parties an injury victim might include in an auto accident case is the at-fault driver's employer. To obtain compensation from an employer, you must satisfy the elements of something called "vicarious liability." In the employer-employee context, one of the keys to establishing vicarious liability often rests upon sufficiently proving that the employee acted within the scope of their employment when the crash happened.

A recent wrongful death case shows some of what's involved in doing this.

The case involved a prison guard who was involved in a two-vehicle crash on a San Bernardino County freeway in 2018 while heading to work. The other vehicle, a Lexus, overturned, rolled down an embankment, and burst into flames. The driver of the Lexus suffered severe injuries and burns, dying 1 1/2 years later. A second man inside the Lexus was also seriously hurt in the accident.

The 'Course and Scope' of Employment

auto accident case

The deceased man's mother, along with the second occupant of the Lexus, sued the guard and the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for negligence and wrongful death. The department sought to avoid responsibility for the crash by arguing that the guard was acting in his personal capacity -- and not "within the course and scope of his employment" -- when the collision occurred, meaning that it could not be legally liable for the harm that happened.

To achieve that result, the department filed a motion for summary judgment. Defeating pretrial motions, such as a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment, can be essential to securing compensation. In these motions, the party making them argues that they can't possibly be liable under the law and the judge should end the case against them before the matter goes to trial. The injury victim, on the other hand, simply must persuade the judge that there are unresolved factual disputes that are material to the outcome of the case and that a jury should decide.

The critical question was whether or not the guard was acting in his professional capacity as a "peace officer" when the accident took place. If he wasn't, the department couldn't be liable for the men's injuries as a matter of law. California law is clear that even if an employee engages in "willful and malicious intentional torts, including those that might contravene an employer’s express policies," that employee's public employer may still be liable and that the "question of scope of employment is ordinarily one of fact for the jury to determine."

In this case, the department had evidence that the guard did not perform "typical law enforcement functions inside the prison, let alone outside the walls, because he was assigned to culinary duty" at the facility, and that the crash was a result of road rage by a private individual (the guard.) The plaintiffs, on the other hand, had proof that both the guard and his supervisor considered him a "peace officer" and the guard thought he was engaged in a law enforcement pursuit and attempted stop when the accident occurred.

San Mateo Car accident Lawyer
John N. Frye, Santa Barbara Car accident Attorney

Based on those conflicting arguments, a reasonable jury could infer that the guard's conduct leading up to the crash "was an 'outgrowth' of his law enforcement responsibilities." The employer wasn't entitled to summary judgment and the victims were entitled to take their case before a jury.

You may face many hurdles in pursuit of full compensation for your auto accident injuries. Don't add to those hurdles by proceeding without a skilled legal team on your side. Count on the knowledgeable Santa Barbara car accident attorneys at the law firm of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, LLP

to fight to get you everything you deserve. Contact us at 805-617-1365 or through our website to get a free case consultation today.


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