vicarious liability

I have many clients who come to me after being injured by the negligence of an employee or agent of a business. These accidents can be auto accidents or even while in a store. This article deals only with the careless or negligent actions of employees of a business. If an employee commits an intentional act that causes an injury to you, that claim could be covered by a different theory of liability.

What makes businesses liable for injuries caused by their employees?

Vicarious liability makes businesses liable for injuries caused by their employees or agents. One type of vicarious liability is called respondeat superior. In Latin, that phrase means “let the master answer.” This claim is fundamentally based on negligence, however. This theory of liability makes an employer liable for an employee’s negligent or careless actions that occur during the course and scope of the employment. This theory applies to all employees or agents of the employer. However, the employee or agent must be actually performing duties for the employer in order to be held liable under respondeat superior. For example, an employee who is heading to or from work or on the way to lunch may not be considered to be within the course and scope of the employment.

As mentioned above, there are two common types of cases where respondeat superior appears. The most common is in the form of an auto accident. If an employee is driving a vehicle for the business, perhaps performing an errand or delivery, and causes an accident that results in injuries, then the employer can be liable for the actions of the employee. It does not need to be shown that the employer committed any type of negligent act; the employer is liable simply because of the employment relationship.

A second example of respondeat superior claims occurs in the actual business setting. If someone is injured by an employee or agent of the business while physically in the store or the business, the business would be liable. I recently had a case where my client was visiting her mother in the hospital and the nurse attending to her mother dropped a machine on her head. My client, the visitor, sustained serious injuries to her head and neck. Under the theory of respondeat superior, the hospital was found liable for the actions of the nurse’s carelessness in dropping the machine on my client’s head.

I do not expect my clients to be able to recite the law of vicarious liability and respondeat superior. But, it is important to know that the law does provide an opportunity to file a claim against the business instead of the employee. This law actually protects the employee and provides the injured party the opportunity to recover compensation against a deeper pocket. Our team will be able to navigate the legal issues and provide sound advice on how to present the claim for injuries sustained.