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What is vicarious liability?

On Behalf of | Jan 23, 2024 | Commercial Litigation

Generally, business owners can be held liable for injuries that customers incur at their premises if the premises have not been properly maintained. But what happens if an employee injures a customer, and the injury doesn’t occur on their employer’s property?

Could you be held liable for your employee’s actions? These situations are relatively common and are referred to as vicarious liability. This is a legal theory that holds one party responsible for the actions of another; it often refers to an employer being held accountable for the actions of its employees. Understanding the scope of employment is crucial in determining whether vicarious liability applies in various scenarios.

The foundation of vicious liability

At its core, vicarious liability is rooted in the employer-employee relationship. When an employee commits a wrongful act within the scope of their employment, their employer may potentially be held responsible. This extends beyond direct actions to include omissions and negligence on the part of the employee while performing job duties. Key elements of vicarious liability include:

  • Employer-employee relationship: The foundation of vicarious liability is the existence of a legal relationship between the employer and the employee.
  • Scope of employment: Actions undertaken by an employee must be related to their job responsibilities and fall within the authorized time and location for the employer to be held liable. If an employee acts outside their designated duties, the employer may not be held vicariously liable.
  • Benefit to the employer: Courts often consider whether the employee’s actions were in some way benefiting the employer to determine liability.

In cases of workplace accidents where an employee’s negligence results in harm to others, their employer may potentially be held vicariously liable. This includes scenarios such as slip and fall incidents or machinery malfunctions.

In professional settings, vicarious liability can arise when an employee, acting on behalf of the employer, engages in negligent or wrongful conduct. This is particularly common in fields like healthcare and law.

Differentiating between what your company may and may not be held liable for can be challenging. Therefore, you can always enlist legal counsel to better understand how to interpret liability and determine if you or one of your employees could be held accountable for various kinds of action or inaction.