Vicarious liability is a legal theory where an employer can be held liable for an employee’s negligence. Generally, if an employee causes injuries and damages while acting within the scope of their employment, the employer is vicariously liable for the damages. An employer’s liability for an employee’s conduct can significantly impact the outcome of a personal injury claim.
Before we explain the requirements for alleging vicarious liability, it helps to understand general liability.
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What is Liability in a Personal Injury Case?
When another party injures you in an accident or other personal injury incident, that party could be held responsible, or “liable,” for your damages.
Damages in a personal injury case may include several types of damages, such as:
- The cost of your medical care and treatment
- Any loss of income, benefits, and future earning potential
- The cost of therapies, personal care, and long-term nursing care
- Pain and suffering damages
- Decreases in your quality and enjoyment of life
- Disabilities, permanent impairments, or disfigurement caused by the accident or injury
Believing a person is responsible for your injuries is different from proving liability in court. You can only hold a person financially liable for your damages if you can prove their liability.
In law, we are all accountable for our actions. It is presumed that we owe a duty of care to others to act in a reasonable manner that does not put others at risk of injury. When we breach the duty of care, we are “negligent.”
However, to succeed in a personal injury claim, the victim must prove that the person’s breach of duty was the proximate and direct cause of their injuries. They must also show they suffered damages because of the breach of duty.
Only a party that is at fault for negligently causing an injury can be held liable for damages. For example, a passenger in a vehicle is not liable for damages caused by the driver. This theory of liability holds true in most cases unless a party falls into the category of vicarious liability.
What is Vicarious Liability?
Vicarious liability is a legal concept that allows an employer to be liable for the actions of an employee in specific situations. The concept of “Respondeat Superior” speaks directly to an employer’s liability for an employee’s conduct based on the employee-employer relationship.
There are several requirements for an employer to be held vicariously liable if an employee injures another person.
- There must be an employer-employee relationship evidenced by the person being an employee with the company
- The employer must have had a supervisory role over the employee
- The employee must have been acting within the scope of employment at the time of the injury or accident
- The employee committed a tortious act while within the course and scope of employment that resulted in injury to another person
The most common defense to vicarious liability is that the employee was not acting within the scope of employment when the accident occurred. For example, suppose the employee was driving a company vehicle, but the employee was on an unpaid lunch break and running personal errands.
An employer may also raise the issue of proportionate responsibility (contributory fault). If the accident victim is partially to blame for the cause of the accident, the employer may not be fully liable for the victim’s damages.
There could be other defenses depending upon the facts and circumstances of the accident. Vicarious liability could result in more money for your case. However, it is a complicated legal theory. It is always best to seek advice from an experienced Houston injury lawyer.
Independent Contractors and Vicarious Liability
Independent contractors are not employees of the company. They perform services for the company on a contract basis. The independent contractor may have multiple clients simultaneously.
Generally, employers are not liable for the conduct of an independent contractor. However, there could be exceptions worth exploring.
Employers might be vicariously liable if they hire an independent contractor to perform inherently dangerous activities. If the employer assigned non-delegable tasks to the independent contractor, the employee could be vicariously liable in some situations. Negligent hiring may also be a reason for holding an employer vicariously liable for actions committed by an independent contractor.
The courts consider each case of vicarious liability involving an independent contractor on a case-by-case basis. The court must review all of the circumstances and factors related to the injury or accident before determining who are the liable parties in the case.
Call Now for a Free Consultation with an Experienced Houston Personal Injury Lawyer
More than one party could be liable for your injuries and damages, which could increase the amount of money you receive for your claim. Call Attorney Brian White & Associates, P.C. at (713) 224-4878 to schedule a free consultation with one of our Houston personal injury attorneys.