vicarious liability

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Vicarious Liability

The tort doctrine that imposes responsibility upon one person for the failure of another, with whom the person has a special relationship (such as Parent and Child, employer and employee, or owner of vehicle and driver), to exercise such care as a reasonably prudent person would use under similar circumstances.

Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that assigns liability for an injury to a person who did not cause the injury but who has a particular legal relationship to the person who did act negligently. It is also referred to as imputed Negligence. Legal relationships that can lead to imputed negligence include the relationship between parent and child, Husband and Wife, owner of a vehicle and driver, and employer and employee. Ordinarily the independent negligence of one person is not imputable to another person.

Other theories of liability that are premised on imputed negligence include the Respondeat Superior doctrine and the family car doctrine.

The doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for "let the master answer") is based on the employer-employee relationship. The doctrine makes the employer responsible for a lack of care on the part of an employee in relation to those to whom the employer owes a duty of care. For respondeat superior to apply, the employee's negligence must occur within the scope of her employment.

The employer is charged with legal responsibility for the negligence of the employee because the employee is held to be an agent of the employer. If a negligent act is committed by an employee acting within the general scope of her or his employment, the employer will be held liable for damages. For example, if the driver of a gasoline delivery truck runs a red light on the way to a gas station and strikes another car, causing injury, the gasoline delivery company will be responsible for the damages if the driver is found to be negligent. Because the company will automatically be found liable if the driver is negligent, respondeat superior is a form of Strict Liability.

Another common example of imputed negligence is attributing liability to the owner of a car, where the driver of the car committed a negligent act. This type of relationship has been labeled the family car doctrine. The doctrine is based on the assumption that the head of the household provides a car for the family's use and, therefore, the operator of the car acts as an agent of the owner. When, for example, a child drives a car, registered to a parent, for a family purpose, the parent is responsible for the negligent acts of the child at the wheel.

Liability can also be imputed to an owner of a car who lends it to a friend. Again, the driver of the car is acting as the agent of the owner. If the owner is injured by the driver's negligence and sues the driver, the owner can lose the lawsuit because the negligence of the driver can be imputed to the owner, thereby rendering him contributorily negligent. This concept is known as imputed contributory negligence.

Cross-references

Scope of Employment; Tort Law.

vicarious liability

n. sometimes called "imputed liability," attachment of responsibility to a person for harm or damages caused by another person in either a negligence lawsuit or criminal prosecution. 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. In most states a participant in a crime (like a hold-up) may be vicariously liable for murder if another member of the gang shoots and kills a shopkeeper or policeman. (See: liability)

vicarious liability

liability where one person, himself blameless, is held liable for another person's conduct. The rule is often justified by reference to two Latin maxims: respondeat superior (‘let the master answer’) and qui facit per alium facit per se (‘he who acts through another acts himself). It is now accepted as a matter of policy, shifting the burden of the cost of accidents upon someone more likely to be able to pay. The most widely used example is the employer's liability for his employee. There is, however, generally no liability for an independent contractor like a taxi driver or removal firm. For there to be vicarious liability in respect of an employee, the traditional rule is that the acts must be ‘in the course of his employment’, which does not rule out negligent or even deliberate wrongs by the employee but excludes cases where the employee has gone off on a frolic of his own. However, recently the House of Lords has accepted that there may be liability where there is a ‘close connection’ with the employer's work, even where the conduct of the employee is wrong and unforeseen, as in one case where a bouncer went home to get a weapon to attack a patron and in another of child abuse in a children's hostel by one of the staff.

For there to be liability in respect of an agent, the relationship will be examined to see whether the wrongdoer is acting on the other's business or for his instructed purposes. However, there is not in the UK any concept of a family car that would, without more, make one spouse liable for the other spouse's driving.

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