Vicarious Liability In Your Business
Vicarious liability in your business. The theory of respondeat superior and how you may be held legally responsible for the negligent acts of your employees.
Can you be held legally responsible for the actions of another? The answer is yes in certain situations.
Generally, an employer can be held liable for the actions of his employees under a theory called respondent superior. This means that the employer is vicariously liable for compensatory damages resulting from negligent acts of employees committed within the scope of their employment. This is based on the fact that the employer has the authority to supervise and thereby control his employees, and also on the fact that he has the ultimate right to hire or fire the employees.
In order to be responsible, the tortfeasor must be an employee. It is not necessary that the employee be hired directly by the employer. He or she may be hired by another employee with express or implied authority to do so or may voluntarily assist in the work of another. All that is necessary is to show that a master-servant relationship existed. Moreover, one who borrows and exercises control over the servant or worker of another in effect assumes all liability for the activities of the borrowed worker. Also, in order to be responsible, under this theory the negligent employee must have been acting within the course and scope of his employment and in furtherance of the work of the employer's business.
An example where one may recover under this theory is when an employee causes injury to another involved in an automobile accident wherein the employee was driving the company vehicle to meet with a client. The result may be different if that same employee was driving the company vehicle after business hours and injures someone by in the parking lot of a bar.
Finally, an employer can also be independently liable. This can occur because the employer negligently entrusts a dangerous instrumentality (such as a weapon, tool, or vehicle) to an employee who should not have been entrusted. (He or she is intoxicated, mentally unstable, etc.) This is based on the practical fact that the owner of an instrumentality that has the capability of causing death or destruction should answer for the misuse of the instrumentality by anyone operating it with his knowledge and consent. An employer may also be liable for the intentional torts of his employees (assault, battery, etc.) if the employer knew or should have known that the employee was a threat to others. However, generally, an employer cannot be held liable for the criminal acts of his employees unless they are committed during the course of employment and to further a purpose or interest, however excessive or misguided, of the employer.
Protect yourself by knowing who you are hiring and firing those troublemakers before they harm anyone. Also, make sure your employees know what your rules are as far as what they can and cannot do on the job. Otherwise, make sure you have some good insurance because accidents will always happen.