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By Michael Cormier

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Hiring the wrong person can be a costly mistake. Lost hiring time, lost training time, not to mention the cost of providing wages and benefits to an unproductive employee all add up to a significant waste of resources and money.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We’re talking about employer liability, of course – the negative value of hiring an employee who causes damage while engaged in his job duties. Under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior (translation: “let the master answer”), the employer will usually be held liable whenever the employee was acting in the scope of his duties.

So, for example, if a pedestrian is injured by a careless delivery driver, the driver’s employer is most likely on the hook.

No-brainer, you say, and you’re right. The employee was acting under his employer’s direction, therefore the employer (or insurer, anyway) gets stuck with the bill. Classic respondeat superior situation.

But read on.

What if that delivery driver stopped for a liquid lunch and was drunk when the accident happened? Well, that’s an intervening cause, you might say, something outside his duties and even forbidden under company rules. As his employer I can only control so much!

Think again.

If that driver had a history of drunk-driving convictions – even if none of them happened in the course of his employment – you, the employer, may become responsible.

Why? Because you knew – or should have known – that this person was a danger to the community if allowed to drive a delivery truck. That’s what his lawyers would argue. And there’s a pretty good chance the judge or jury would buy it.

That’s because the legal system wants to make that pedestrian whole again. And it’s much more likely that the employer will have the means to do that.

To justify this result, they reason that you, the employer, had the means to prevent this driver from getting behind the wheel. How? By way of a background check. If you had checked his background, you would have discovered that he was a bad risk and he wouldn’t have been allowed to drive your truck drunk. Case closed.

So now you’re out maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the insurer will pick up the tab, you say? Maybe. For years insurers have fought claims filed by employers based on the definition of “accident” in their insured’s policy. So, going back to the example of the delivery driver, what if he had a history of road rage convictions, and instead of being drunk, he purposely hit the pedestrian for crossing against a green light – an intentional act?

Time to check your insurance policy.

Better yet, take some preventive measures before all the heartache and expense and loss of reputation happen. Contact a reputable, full-service background investigation firm like Hire Authority at or (508) 230-5901 to find out what they can do for your peace of mind.

It’s better to pay a little now than a lot later.

The foregoing should not be construed as legal advice. Employers should always consult their own legal counsel for advice on labor and employment matters.