A recent article in the Kansas City Star caught my eye because it raises important issues for Missouri car accident attorneys like me. According to the article, a youth minister, Damion Fassnacht, 25, was charged with involuntary manslaughter for an October 11, 2009, car crash that killed a 16-year-old girl and hurt four other people. My sympathy goes out to the victims of this accident. As an attorney, I am interested in the important issues the crash might raise concerning employer liability for the actions of employees like Fassnacht.
Fassnacht was allegedly driving more than 80 mph in a 45 mph zone while driving youth group members to church. As he drove down Northwest 68th Street, he struck a vehicle at North Ames Avenue in Kansas City, North. The driver of the other vehicle was hurt. One of Fassnacht’s passengers, Kelsey Morris, 16, of Platte City, died, and three of his other passengers were hurt. While Fassnacht faces criminal charges for the accident, he and the church that employed him could also face a civil lawsuit brought by the victims who were hurt, and by the family of Kelsey Morris. Under a legal doctrine called respondeat superior (“Let the superior answer,” in Latin), employers are generally held legally responsible for what their employees do while carrying out their work duties. If the employee was not acting on behalf of the employer, then the employee would be held personally responsible, and the employer would not be liable.
Driving kids to church is arguably within the scope of a youth minister’s job. However, driving 80 mph with a car full of teenagers would have been risky on an interstate highway, given the possibility of distraction by lively conversation and music playing on the car stereo. Driving that fast within a city with that many young people in the car could easily be seen as reckless and negligent. If the victims of this crash chose to sue, they could name both the youth minister and the church as responsible parties in their lawsuit. As long as they could demonstrate that Fassnacht was acting within the scope of his employment, the victims would not have to show that the church should have known that the minister could cause harm, or that the church itself did anything wrong.
As a St. Louis car crash lawyer, I also want to address a potential misconception about churches in cases like this. Some people may have heard that churches cannot be sued like other employers. Churches do enjoy some protection in discrimination in hiring decisions and in some sexual abuse cases. But in a case like this one, the church would face the same legal circumstances that any other employer would face with an employee who acted negligently in the course of employment.
In a lot of cases, victims and their families continue seeing the person who hurt them in their community, sometimes on a daily basis. This might make them feel uncomfortable about asking for compensation for their injuries, even though the other person is clearly at fault. As an experienced southern Illinois car wreck attorney, however, I stress to all of my clients that they are rarely suing the at-fault drivers themselves — they are suing those drivers’ insurance companies. To get a fair settlement from that company, victims are strongly advised to get help from an experienced attorney. In a lawsuit, victims of serious crashes can claim repayment of medical costs, lost income and funeral costs, as well as compensation for pain and suffering, lost income and lost quality of life.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in a serious car accident, please contact Carey, Danis & Lowe today. Our attorneys offer a free consultation so that you can tell us about your case and we can advise you of your rights. You can call us toll-free at 1-877-678-3400, or send us a message online.