Employer Liability

By Elliott R. Teel

The Maine Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that suggests greater liability for employers for actions of their employees. The case concerned a employee who was driving home after completing a work assignment when he crashed into another vehicle, killing one and injuring two others.

The significance of the Court’s ruling is its indication that in future cases, Maine courts should allow for an expansion of time when an employer may be legally liable for the actions of an employee. The dissenting judges in the case noted that the ruling is a change in Maine law. The legal standard has been that a person who is “going to or coming from work is responsible for his or her own actions.”

Under Maine law, an employer is liable for the actions of an employee when their actions were within the “scope of employment.” To determine if the specific actions were within the scope of the employment, the court will look at three factors: (1) if the action was the type the employee was hired to perform; (2) the action took place substantially within the time and space as authorized by the employer; and (3) the action was done, at least in part, to benefit the employer.

The exact impact of the Court’s ruling is not yet known, though the ruling may lead to an employer being liable for the actions of an employee when they are driving to or from work or a specific assignment.  The ruling in the case overturned a lower courts dismissal of the case at an early stage of the case, and the Court did not articulate a new standard for the lower court to use, or for other future Maine cases. The Court did not explain what specific facts it found to be different in this case, or if they thought the current standard was outdated. However, based on the somewhat limited facts of the case, employers should be aware that they may be liable for their employees actions while they driving to or from work, or a specific assignment.

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