Do I have grounds to seek compensation from my employer for business-related damages to my property?
November 2, 2010 9:23 PM   Subscribe

[ Employer Compensation Filter ] Do I have grounds to seek compensation from my employer for damage to my car incurred during business use?

I use my personal vehicle to transport products needed for the daily operations of the store I manage (think big US paint manufacturer). When hired, I was required to sign a form saying that I was willing to use my personal vehicle for this kind of activity.

Fast-forward to the present, and a huge container or oil-based paint leaked in the back seat of my brand new car. This wasn't due to negligence on my part; the container had no visible signs of damage, but the seal of the lid wasn't working.

I'm clearly biased, but I'm of the opinion that agreeing to use my vehicle for company use does not mean I accept any damages that happen to it during this activity. Do I have grounds to ask for compensation here? Is it a good idea to do so, or will I have to fear for my job in the aftermath?

Thanks ahead of time Askmefi!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total)
I assume you are compensated for this car usage? If you accept a "per-mile" reimbursement (ie, the federal rate of $0.50/mile), the damage to the vehicle is inclusive in the amount. That's why it's more than just gas - it's inclusive of vehicle wear and insurance. If you accept an "actual costs" reimbursement, you definitely have grounds to ask for compensation.

It's a judgment call on your part whether to ask or not. Determine whether the company wants you more than the cost of repairing the back seat. This doesn't really matter whether it's your fault or not; it costs the company just the same. It can't hurt to ask, but the answer is likely to be just what I told you.

You could always consult a lawyer if they say no, but I suspect that the damage done to your reputation by suing your employer would be more damaging than the cost of repairing your back seat.

In short, it doesn't really matter whether you're in the right or not. It matters how valuable you are to your company.
posted by saeculorum at 9:28 PM on November 2, 2010

You seem to be assuming right away that (a) they will refuse to pay for the repair of the damage and (b) it's a big deal. You might be wrong on both counts – most employers are not jerks, and they may have insurance that covers such incidents.

If the same thing happened to a consumer who had just bought the can from a distributor, how would they treat his claim?
posted by halogen at 10:06 PM on November 2, 2010

In California, Labor Code 2802 requires employers to indemnify/reimburse employees for expenses necessary to discharge duties. There are a bunch of cases on how this applies to the expense of using a personal car. And here's the regulation.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:09 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm no expert on the relevant law, saeculorum, but I wouldn't think that accepting a "per-mile" reimbursement necessarily rules out recovering for damages outside of normal wear and tear. Particularly if this isn't a federal job governed by some statute or regulation.

But let's be honest, that's irrelevant. You're not going to sue over this. That's not the question. Maybe you have grounds, maybe you don't. But that would look terrible to any future employer, and the monetary loss doesn't justify the costs in any case I would assume.

With regard to asking for compensation, I say definitely ask. Only you know the circumstances of your job, but I can't imagine many bosses that would find that request unusual even if they don't accede to it. Seems perfectly reasonable that they would compensate you in this circumstance to me. Ask in a non-confrontational way, indicate that it's a request more than a demand, and have an firm estimate as to the cost of the repair when you ask. If you do that, I think your job-loss risk is extremely low.
posted by slide at 10:09 PM on November 2, 2010

Definitely ask. Since they're a big company, I bet they have insurance that covers this. In fact, I'd approach it by assuming they do, and saying to your boss, "Hey, that paint barrel was leaky and paint spilled out and damaged my car. What forms do I fill out to claim on [big company]'s insurance?"
posted by lollusc at 10:43 PM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

You can always ask. I've gotten my speeding tickets incurred as part of my job paid. Some context: My boss and I were driving in my car and he was late, so we had to drive fast to make our meeting.
posted by atrazine at 1:32 AM on November 3, 2010

By the way, are you sure you were insured to use your car in this way? My insurance, for instance, covers social and commuting to a normal place of work. It's arguable that this doesn't even cover driving to a meeting, and I've known colleagues who have hired a car to drive to a meeting for this very reason.
posted by salmacis at 3:07 AM on November 3, 2010

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect to be reimbursed for this, and I imagine that your employer would expect you to ask for it. Unless they are unreasonable employers, you should get your reimbursement as a matter of course. If, on the other hand, they are unreasonable, you then have to decide whether your going to eat it or pursue it more aggressively. In any case, I would not classify this as the sort of fair wear and tear covered by the mileage payment.
posted by Jakey at 3:39 AM on November 3, 2010

The regulation ClaudiaCenter cites does not necessarily mean that you have to be reimbursed for damage to your car.

I'd see if you can get this worked out through your employer's insurance, though you need to recognize that many commercial policies don't cover employees' vehicles, and many personal auto policies don't cover insured vehicles when used for a business purpose beyond commuting to work.

Definitely ask though. Because this was damage from product moved for your employer, you'll probably get a better hearing than if you had hit something.
posted by valkyryn at 5:36 AM on November 3, 2010

valkyryn sums it up nicely and according to what I also believe to be true.

Things to think about:

Is the company actually liable for leaky containers? What would they do if it leaked into a customer's car?

Is it customary for the paint to be transported in the passenger compartment, or is there some kind of expectation/assumption that it would be in the trunk or truck bed?

And it might not be all that bad of a repair. You'll probably need a new seat and carpet, but the rest of the fix will probably be labor. It isn't all that hard to unbolt the seats and replace the carpet, it just takes a while. If they don't straight up pay for it, maybe you can work a deal where they pay for the parts, and you can find someone to help you do the work or do it cheaply.

"I've gotten my speeding tickets incurred as part of my job paid. Some context: My boss and I were driving in my car and he was late, so we had to drive fast to make our meeting."

That was an upstanding thing for them to do, but you certainly wouldn't win a lawsuit based on that. You are the captain of your ship, as it were.
posted by gjc at 8:30 AM on November 3, 2010

Did that waiver about using your car include a provision in which you also assume the risk of any possible damages to your vehicle?
Regardless, just ask and see what they say.
posted by Neekee at 3:56 PM on November 3, 2010

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