I recently had a client who turned to me after a well-known metro Atlanta auto repair company wrecked his sports car while it was in the shop for minor work. Our understanding is that one of the body shop employees had taken the car out for a ride during work hours and lost control of the vehicle. Based upon the facts of this case, we had to determine who bore responsibility for the resulting damage under Georgia law – the driver, or the body shop?
The legal doctrine of respondeat superior holds that an employer is liable for injuries to another proximately resulting from the acts of an employee committed within the scope of his or her employment. Georgia Code Annotated § 51-2-2. While there is no controlling definition of scope of employment, generally, if the employee’s wrongful conduct is in any way incidental to his or her employment, related to his or her work duties, or provides a benefit to his or her employer, the employer may be found liable to third parties under this doctrine of respondeat superior. See, Du Pree v. Babcock, 112 S.E.2d 415 (Ga. Ct. App. 1959).
The question of employer liability under respondeat superior, then, boils down to whether the driver was acting within the scope of his job at the repair shop as of the time of the accident. Auto repair shops can and often do take customer’s vehicles on short drives for diagnostic purposes; any such truly diagnostic test drive would clearly be within the scope of the repair shop’s business, and the body shop could be held responsible for damage caused by an employee in the course of that drive. On the other hand, what if a repair shop employee simply snuck out a customer’s car for a joy ride without his or her employer’s knowledge? Likely, respondeat superior would not apply, as the joy ride would not have any legitimate relation to the driver’s duties as a repair shop employee.
Even assuming the metro Atlanta repair shop’s employee was just out for a joy ride, an employer which knowingly allows (or encourages) employees to participate in illegal behavior like joy-riding customer vehicles can still be held responsible for the resulting damage. In this case, the body shop agreed to take responsibility for my client’s property damage and loss of use claims, and the matter settled out of court, so we’ll never know if this truly was a matter of respondeat superior or not. Either way, my client got a nice settlement check for his trouble. My last piece of legal advice to him on the matter was to go to a different repair shop next time!
If you think a company has taken you for a ride, contact The Hinson Firm to ensure that your rights are protected!