Most people know that they can be found liable for their own actions. Lesser known, however, is that some people may be found legally responsible for the actions of others. This legal concept, known as vicarious liability, holds that a party can bear responsibility for an injury even though someone else caused it.
In California, a party vicariously liable for someone else’s actions may be legally accountable for paying a victim’s medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other losses. In this article, we examine the legal concept of vicarious liability.
What is Vicarious Liability?
Although people are usually only responsible for their personal actions, in some instances, the law deems it fair to hold one party liable for another’s actions. This legal concept is called vicarious liability.
Vicarious liability may apply when:
- One party has legal control over the actions of someone else; and
- It is considered fair according to public policy to make the controlling party assume the risks of the other person’s behavior.
Vicarious liability most frequently arises in the context of an employer/employee relationship or principal/agent relationship.
Vicarious Liability for Employees
As noted above, employers can be vicariously liable for their employees in California. For an employer to be liable for an employee’s actions, the employee must commit the act within the ordinary scope of their employment. In other words, the employee must be performing a task the employer reasonably expects them to perform at their job, regardless of whether it falls under their everyday responsibilities.
For example, someone is injured in a slip-and-fall accident in a grocery store after an employee of the store spills coffee on the premises. The employer may be vicariously liable for the actions of the employee. Although drinking coffee isn’t part of the employee’s official job duties, it’s reasonable to expect them to drink beverages at work. Since a spill is a foreseeable result of a retail employee’s actions, the employer may be held vicariously responsible for any injuries resulting from the spill.
Vicarious Liability for Partners, Agents, and Independent Contractors
In addition to employees, vicarious liability may apply to principals due to the actions of their partners, agents, independent contractors (under certain circumstances), joint venture members, and those performing a non-delegable duty on behalf of the principal.
In California, a “non-delegable duty” is a legal responsibility that cannot legally be entrusted to another person. In addition to non-delegable duties, a principal can be held responsible for the acts of an agent acting within their scope of powers on behalf of the principal.
For example, a potential buyer is bitten by a dog while viewing a house because the real estate agent negligently failed to close the dog’s gate. The seller may be found vicariously liable for the negligence of the agent.
Vicarious Liability of Parents for Their Children
In California, parents may be vicariously liable for damages caused by their children under the age of 18.
Vicarious liability for an act by a child generally applies in three circumstances:
- A child engages in willful misconduct (regardless of whether their parent knew they had a propensity to be dangerous)
- A parent knows their child is dangerous and fails to prevent them from injuring someone
- A parent lets their child obtain and use a firearm, injuring another person
Other parent/child vicarious liability situations may apply, depending on the circumstances.
Vicarious Liability for Co-Conspirators
Finally, under California law, a conspiracy member can be vicariously liable for crimes carried out by their co-conspirators. To determine whether a conspirator will be held responsible for the acts of their co-conspirators, courts consider whether the actions of the co-conspirator were foreseeable and committed with the intent of advancing the purpose of the conspiracy.
Some crimes can lead to the possibility of damages in a California personal injury lawsuit in addition to (or in lieu of) criminal charges. Common examples include assault, sexual assault, and manslaughter.
Contact a California Personal Injury Lawyer To See If Vicarious Liability Applies in Your Case
Vicarious liability may apply in your case if any of the parties discussed above caused you to sustain injuries. A personal injury attorney will help you identify all potentially responsible parties to ensure you recover the maximum settlement or verdict.