What is Vicarious Liability?

Personal injury cases are often filed against the person who directly caused injuries or harm to another. Most times, this is the only option as nobody else can be held liable for many types of claims. 

In certain cases, it is possible to not only hold an acting party responsible, but also another who is deemed superior by reason of employment or other association. 

Holding someone legally responsible for another’s actions is known as vicarious liability. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious liability is a legal concept that allows an additional person to be held legally responsible along with the main person accused of causing harm. This type of liability becomes possible when there is a special relationship between the person who caused harm and someone else. 

There is typically some level of control or authority that the additional person has over the person who caused harm, allowing the additional person to face potential liability. 

Examples of special relationships that can give rise to vicarious liability include:

  • Parent/child
  • Employer/employee 
  • Vehicle owner/driver
  • Principal/agent

The above are all relationships where vicarious liability can arise. Vicarious liability is also known by its Latin root, respondeat superior, which means “let the master answer.” 

When Is Vicarious Liability Relevant?

Vicarious liability can be relevant when it is shown that someone else has some control or authority over the person who caused harm. If a person or organization has power over an employee, agent, or partner, then that person or organization may be held vicariously liable. 

The first question that needs to be asked is if there is a person or organization that maintains some level of control over the person who caused harm. 

If there is, then that person or organization may be held liable if it is shown that the person who caused harm was acting under that control. If the person who caused harm was acting as they normally would on behalf of their superior, then vicarious liability will likely become an issue.

Examples of Vicarious Liability

Some common examples of situations that give rise to vicarious liability include:

  • If a delivery driver negligently causes an accident while making deliveries. If you are hit by an Amazon delivery truck, for example, then you can likely explore a claim or lawsuit against Amazon in addition to the driver who actually caused the accident. 
  • If a factory employee uses heavy machinery negligently and causes an injury to another, then then the company that owns the factory may face a claim or lawsuit seeking to hold the company vicariously liable. 
  • If a hiring manager or employee discriminates against a job applicant, then a vicarious liability claim can be explored against the company as well as the hiring manager.

What about accidents involving Uber or Lyft drivers? Would vicarious liability apply in a situation like that? Probably not – and here’s why. Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have gone to great lengths to have their drivers legally classified as independent contractors

Why? In order to avoid responsibilities that might attach because of laws like vicarious liability. If you’re involved in an accident with an Uber, the company will generally not be liable for your injuries – despite the fact that one of its drivers was behind the wheel and at fault. (But, these companies are required to purchase and maintain insurance policies in the event of a crash).

If you have legal questions, then make sure to speak to an experienced attorney.

Why Vicarious Liability Exists

Vicarious liability exists to make sure that people cannot hide behind their employees or agents when it comes to liability for actions that they are ultimately responsible for. In the Amazon example, that delivery driver would not be in a truck delivering packages unless he worked for Amazon. Amazon put that person there, and they caused an accident and injuries. Vicarious liability prevents Amazon from claiming that they bear no responsibility for the actions of their employee.

Most injury victims need compensation. Vicarious liability prevents companies from skirting responsibility when one of their employees causes harm. Companies like Amazon are then forced to take extra safety measures and require proper training to reduce accidents and potential claims.

How an Experienced Attorney Can Help You with a Vicarious Liability Claim

An experienced attorney can properly examine your case to inform you of what legal options you may have. Factors that an attorney will examine include the cause of any harm, who was involved in causing the harm, and the reasons why they were there to begin with. 

The more authority another person or organization appears to have over the person who harmed you, the more likely that person can be held vicariously liable. Vicarious liability can change the entire dynamic and approach to an injury claim. 

If you have legal questions, an attorney can offer invaluable guidance and help you seek the compensation you may deserve. Contact the Fort Worth personal injury lawyer at Stephens Law today for a free consultation, or call us at (817) 420-7000 to learn more.