What is Vicarious Liability?

Enika Vania

Vicarious liability may occur in any situation where one party can be held partially responsible for the actions of another, who also carry their own share of the liability. It can be the case in situations where one party is meant to be responsible for and have control over a third party, such as an employee, and is negligent in carrying out and exercising that responsibility and control.

How Vicarious Liability Works

One example of vicarious liability could be truck driver accidents, where the employer of the truck driver could be held liable for the driver’s unlawful actions when on the road that have led to the collision. Another example may be where an employer is held partly liable for an employee who acts in a discriminatory way while at work. Despite the fact that the employer didn’t personally commit these actions, they can still be held responsible because they are seen as being responsible for the actions of their employees when on the job, including the prevention and limitation of harmful acts committed by employees. In some cases, an employer who has been proven to exercise reasonable care to prevent any unlawful or negligent behavior may be able to avoid vicarious liability lawsuits. 

Scope of Employment

The scope of employment refers to the actions of the employee within his or her employment terms. This can often vary depending on the specific requirements of the work that the employee is hired to carry out. However, there may be several instances where an employee is not working within this scope. For example, it may not apply to independent contractors where individuals are performing work for somebody else but are not considered to be a legal employee. In addition, illegal acts are not within the scope of employment and any damages caused by an employee acting illegally will not be considered to be the responsibility of an employer in the majority of cases. 

When Employees Act Outside Scope of Employment

Any employer whose employee acts in a way that was not directed or controlled by the employer may not be held responsible for any damages, depending on the type of activity and the purpose it served. For example, a driver who takes a detour to get gas while working and causes an accident as a result might still expose the employer to vicarious liability since the actions were necessary to do their job. On the other hand, a driver who returns home to run a personal errand while on the clock will not be classed as being engaged in the employer’s business and may be held fully responsible for any accidents that occur as a result of these actions. In legal terms, this is known as ‘employee frolic

Vicarious liability can apply to not just employers, but any situation where another party can be held partially responsible for the actions of another. Principal liability, where a vehicle owner can be held responsible for the negligence that leads to damage or injury by somebody who is borrowing the car, and parental liability, where parents can be held liable for actions carried out by their children, are some of the most common. 

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