Fender bender gets Kia salesperson in trouble

Employee damaged three cars on the lot while moving them

This instalment of You Make the Call looks at an employee of a car dealership who damaged three cars while he was working.

Ross Hilton, 25, worked at Kia West, a dealership in Edmonton. Hilton was a student and his position as a salesperson was a summer job to get sales experience and make money between terms at school. Part of his job involved moving cars around when Kia rearranged the lot. As a result, he was required to have a drivers licence and Kia informed him and all of its employees that they must obey traffic laws when moving cars on the lot. Kia testified it was company practice that if an employee caused an accident through negligence, the employee was responsible for the deductible under its insurance policy.

On July 7, 2006, Hilton was moving a car in the lot. The car accelerated suddenly in reverse and crashed into two others. Hilton claimed his feet slipped off the pedals when he looked around to back up and hit the accelerator accidentally. Two co-workers claimed he was acting inappropriately and shouting at someone as he climbed into the car.

Kia reported repairs to the three cars cost $10,166.27 and it lost another $8,149.63 due to depreciation of the cars because of the damage. The company didn’t make an insurance claim because the deductible on each car was $5,000 and it would have increased its premiums. It sued Hilton for the cost of the repairs, which it claimed was a result of his negligence. It claimed he knew of the policy and Kia had deducted from his pay the cost of repairs to a vehicle he had previously damaged.

Hilton said Kia never discussed liability or insurance with him and he assumed Kia carried liability and insurance on its vehicles and he was covered under the insurance. He claimed he wasn’t aware his employer had made a deduction from his compensation to pay for car damages.
You Make the Call
Was Hilton liable for the damage to the cars as a result of his negligence?
Should Kia be liable for the actions of its employee in the workplace?

If you said Kia was liable, you’re right. The court noted under Alberta’s standard automobile policy, “a person operating a motor vehicle with the consent of the owner is an unnamed insured under the owner’s policy.” It found Hilton, as an employee, would expect the car he was driving and himself as operating it with Kia’s consent would be insured under Kia’s policy.

“Employers, rather than employees, are expected to insure their property and liability arising from employees’ negligence arising in the course of employment,” the court said. “It is not realistic that employees should be expected to carry liability insurance in respect of claims arising from the operation of motor vehicles in the course of their employment. Nor is it realistic that employees should carry property insurance against damages to their employers’ property.”

The court said it could be possible for skilled employees to be liable to their employers if they didn’t exercise reasonable care when using a skill they were specifically employed to use, but unskilled employees weren’t liable unless there was “wilful misconduct or dishonesty.” However, it found the ability to drive a car was not a special enough skill to consider Hilton a skilled employee.

The court also found Hilton’s negligence wasn’t enough to warrant liability.

“Hilton was negligent but he did not intentionally, or recklessly, cause the damage in question,” the court said. “The management of the conduct of employees is in the hands of employers and occurs through selection on hiring, training and discipline.”

Additionally, the court found Kia owed Hilton for unpaid commissions of $1,000 from the period of his last paycheck to the time of the accident when he was let go. See 864475 Alberta Ltd. v. Hilton, 2007 CarswellAlta 1766 (Alta. Prov. Ct.).

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