When people hear the word “vicarious liability”, their eyes often glaze over. Then, they develop a deep frown while pretending to understand what is happening.
Vicarious liability is defined as:
“Attachment of responsibility to a person for harm or damages caused by another person in a negligence lawsuit. Thus, an employer of an employee who injures someone through negligence while in the scope of employment (doing work for the employer) is vicariously liable for damages to the injured person.”
This is legalese. Typical lawyer-speak.
In layman’s terms, vicarious liability means that the employer of an employee can be held liable for the employee’s actions in certain circumstances.
Let’s examine when an employer can be held liable for their employee’s action in causing a vehicle accident whilst driving a company car.
Common Examples of Vicarious Liability Accidents
Often people are driving on the road on behalf of their employer and not for themselves.
For example – a pizza delivery driver might be rushing to deliver a pizza to a takeaway customer when he accidentally rear-ends a vehicle in front of him.
Or a construction worker is hurrying to a site visit and fails to stop at a stop sign, causing a massive pile-up.
In these instances, the employer may be liable to anyone injured in the accident under a theory of vicarious liability.
This can be useful because employers often have more insurance and assets than an individual driver, putting them in a better position to compensate a victim for injuries.
How is Vicarious Liability of the Employer Established?
Suppose it can be proven that the driver who was at fault was acting in the course and scope of their employment when they caused the crash. In that case, the employer can be held liable through the principle of vicarious liability.
Click here to find out the situation if you were an employee and caused an accident while driving your personal vehicle for work.
So, in the above two examples, if the pizza delivery driver was delivering the pizza for his employer, vicarious liability would probably apply. The employer could be held liable for the employee’s actions.
However, if the driver was on a lunch break and doing personal errands for himself, vicarious liability would not apply, and the employer would not be vicariously liable.
Vicarious liability would apply if the construction worker was indeed on his way to a construction site as part of his work duties.
What if You are Travelling To or From Work?
Accidents caused by employees while commuting to and from work are excluded from vicarious liability through the “going and coming rule.”
Employees are not considered “on the job” when using their lunch break to address personal matters.
However, situations that mix business with personal errands may attract vicarious liability.
What Is Meant By the Direct Liability of Employers?
Vicarious liability does not require fault or negligence by the employer to be held liable.
Direct liability does require fault or negligence on the part of the employer. If the employer bears some of the fault or negligence, they can be sued directly by someone who has suffered an injury.
What Elements are Required to Prove Vicarious Liability?
To prove an individual or entity is vicariously liable for the actions of another person, the following needs to be proven:
- The third-party has a relationship with the defendant
- The third-party has a responsibility to make sure the defendant acts in a responsible manner
- The third party is negligent in carrying out that responsibility and exercising control over the defendant.
All three of the above must be proven. It is not sufficient to prove only 1 or 2 aspects.
Can the Employer be Held Vicariously Liable For Incompetent Drivers?
Employers can be held vicariously liable for car wreck injuries where they knowingly allowed incompetent users to operate the vehicle, and that operator caused a wreck.
Evidence of incompetency includes:
- The driver never had a drivers’ license
- The driver had an existing poor driving record
- Physical impairment, such as fatigue or intoxication
- Driver in possession of a safety-suspended drivers’ license
- Driving in violation of an eyeglasses-required or other restriction
- Inexperience operating a certain kind of vehicle or driving in a specific area.
Both knowledge and incompetency must be proven to be more likely than not
In certain circumstances, then, employers can be held liable for the actions of their employees.
If the matter is complicated, it is usually due to the grey area of whether the employee was acting directly within the scope of their employment.
This question can be pretty complex, depending on the facts. Therefore, you would be well advised to consult with a specialized car accident lawyer to ascertain who should be sued in such an event.