Under vicarious liability laws, injury victims can recover compensation for injuries directly caused by one party, as well as third parties who are responsible for the perpetrator’s actions.
What Is Vicarious Liability?
Vicarious liability relates to situations where one person is held partly responsible for the negligent or unlawful actions of a third party. When injuries are caused by negligence, the person who directly caused the injuries and the third-party responsible for that person can share liability. Vicarious liability makes both parties responsible for injuries and compensation to cover damages.
Under respondeat superior legal theories, vicarious liability laws allow defendants to be held vicariously liable for harm that their inferiors inflict while under their control. Even though the third party does not cause the injuries, he/she may still be held liable for imputed negligence. Legal relationships that can lead to vicarious liability lawsuits filed by injury lawyers include: marital relationships; parent/child relationships; vehicle owner/driver relationships; and employer/employee relationships.
Motor Vehicle Accidents and Injuries
Injury lawyers often see cases of vicarious liability connected to vehicle accidents. Vehicle owners can be charged with vicarious liability when a driver of the vehicle who is not the owner commits a negligent act that causes injuries. These types of injury claims frequently involve spousal relationships and parent/child relationships, where a family member driving the car causes a car accident.
Under the respondeat superior doctrine, when the head of the household provides a car for the family’s use, the driver of the car acts as an agent of the owner. For example, when a child drives a car registered to his/her parent, the parent is responsible for the negligent acts of the child when the child is behind the wheel.
Liability can also be charged to a car owner who lends his/her vehicle to a non-relative or friend. In such cases, the driver of the car is also acting as an agent of the owner. If a car accident occurs and leads to a lawsuit through an injury lawyer to recover damages, the vehicle owner can be found responsible for contributory negligence.
Workplace Accidents and Injuries
Vicarious liability lawsuits filed by injury lawyers commonly involve work-related injuries. The doctrine of respondeat superior means “let the master answer” in Latin, and it is based on employer/employee relationships. This doctrine states that the employer owes his/her employees a duty of care, and it makes the employer legally responsible for any lack of care on the part of the employer.
For the doctrine of respondeat superior to apply, the employee’s negligence must occur within the scope of his/her employment. When work-related accidents and injuries occur, the employer is charged with the legal responsibility of the employee. The employer can be held liable for negligent and/or unlawful actions of an employee, including work-related property damages and personal injuries, and workplace acts of discrimination and harassment.
Work-related vicarious liability cases handled by injury lawyers include a wide variety of workplace accidents and injuries caused by vehicle delivery drivers, transportation workers, retail and restaurant workers, construction workers, industrial workers, and maritime workers.
In the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Exxon Shipping Company was charged with vicarious liability for events that led to a 10 million gallon crude oil spill into the ocean and onto the shoreline. Under vicarious liability laws, the company was held accountable for lack of supervision of the ship’s captain; fatigue among ship crew members; and the poor condition of radar equipment that was designed to prevent the oil tanker from running aground.
In cases of work-related vicarious liability, there are three types of negligence that an employer may be held accountable for: 1) negligent hiring, 2) negligent retention, and 3) negligent supervision.
An employer is responsible for the actions of the employees they choose to hire. To ensure that an employee is competent to perform assigned job duties, the employer must qualify the employee for the job by investigating the employee’s background, previous work experience, and previous job relationships with managers, supervisors, and other employees.
Negligent retention is similar to negligent hiring, except that the employer becomes aware of the employee’s incompetence after the employee is hired. If the employer discovers that the employee is incompetent to perform job duties, but keeps the employee anyway, the employer can be held liable for injuries, unless the employee is provided with proper job training.
An employer is expected to provide adequate supervision for all employees by implementing job policies and procedures, providing job training, scheduling employee meetings, and performing regular employee job assessments. If an employee presents a problem or possible danger to other employees by violating job policies and procedures or using improper equipment and the employer ignores risks, an injury lawyer can file a vicarious liability lawsuit against the employer for injuries.