Court Discusses Employer Liability in Recent Distracted Driving Case

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important and frequently misunderstood issue that commonly arises in Virginia car accident cases. The case required the court determine whether a plaintiff’s claim against an employer could proceed towards trial despite direct evidence that the employee was not engaged in work-related activities during the accident.

Ultimately, the court concluded that a plaintiff must provide actual evidence to rebut direct evidence to survive a summary judgment challenge and merely questioning the credibility of the defendant’s witness is not sufficient to give rise to a disputed fact.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident that occurred when another motorist struck her vehicle. The other driver was on the phone at the time of the accident, speaking with a friend from work.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the employer of the allegedly at-fault driver. The plaintiff claimed that the employer was liable for her injuries because the driver was on the phone with a co-worker at the time, and was, therefore, acting within the scope of her employment.

The employer presented the testimony of both the driver as well as the friend, both claiming that they were friends from outside of work and that they were not speaking about work matters at the time of the accident. The driver testified that she routinely talks to her friend on the phone about non-work-related things.

In hopes of defeating the employer’s claim that the women maintained a friendship outside of work, the plaintiff presented he driver’s cell phone records, indicating that she had never spoken on the phone her “friend,” and that she had only sent her one text message over the past six months. The plaintiff claimed that a jury would be free to reject the driver’s testimony on the basis that she was lying to protect her job with the defendant employer.

The court, however, rejected the plaintiff’s argument and affirmed the dismissal of her case. The court explained that to survive a summary judgment challenge, a plaintiff must present some evidence that gives rise to a disputed fact. Here, the court held, the plaintiff merely called the credibility of the defendant’s witness into question but presented no contrary evidence suggesting that the driver was acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident. The court explained that “disbelief of a witness’s statement is not proof that the opposite is true,” and just because the plaintiff called the driver’s friendship into question does not mean that the two women were not friends or that the driver was acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident.

Have You Been injured in a Virginia Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, there may be multiple parties who are liable for your injuries. At Charles B. Roberts, P.C., we have extensive experience handling Virginia car accident cases and know what it takes to succeed on our clients’ behalf. To learn more, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation today.

See More Blog Posts:

Virginia Accident Victims and the Importance of Reading All Settlement Agreements Closely, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, October 10, 2018.

Accident Victims Can Stack Underinsured Motorist Policies in Virginia, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, September 28, 2018.