Liability in a personal injury case means the person is held responsible for an injured party’s damages.
Damages can include the person’s injuries and non-economic damages, such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Diminished quality of life
- Disabilities and impairments
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
Damages also include the injured party’s financial losses. For example, economic damages could include:
- Medical expenses
- Nursing care
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Lost wages
- Diminished earning potential
Vicarious liability is the legal doctrine that another party who was not directly responsible for a person’s injuries could also be liable for damages. The legal theory is often used to hold an employer responsible for damages caused by an employee.
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What Is Vicarious Liability in a Personal Injury Case?
Vicarious liability incorporates the concept of “Respondeat Superior.” It means “let the master answer.” In other words, an employer is liable for employee acts based on the legal relationship between the parties.
For vicarious liability to apply in a personal injury case, several criteria must be met:
- An employer-employee relationship must exist between the person who caused the injury and the party you seek to hold liable
- The employer must have exercised a supervisory role over the employee
- The employee must have been acting within their scope of employment when your injured occurred
- The employee committed a tortious act (contact that results in another person’s injury) while operating within the scope and course of employment
- The employee’s tortious act was the direct and proximate cause of your injury
You have the burden of proving each of the above elements to hold an employer liable for damages. Furthermore, you must have evidence proving that the employee’s conduct was negligent and that negligent conduct caused your injuries.
The burden of proof in a vicarious liability case is the same as in other personal injury cases. You must prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, the jury must be convinced there is a greater than 50% chance that the defendant caused your injury and that your allegations are true.
Defenses to Vicarious Liability for Employers
A common defense employers raise is that an employee was not acting within the scope of their employment. This element is required to hold the employer vicariously liable for your injuries.
For example, suppose a delivery person hits you with a vehicle while you are riding your bicycle. You claim that the employer is liable for your damages. However, the employer claims that the employee was not “on the clock” at the time of the bicycle accident.
Another common defense is contributory fault. For example, the employer may claim that you violated Florida traffic laws while riding your bicycle. Therefore, you contributed to the cause of the accident.
Florida’s contributory fault law reduces your compensation for damages by your portion of liability for the accident. Therefore, if a jury decides you were 50% at fault for the bicycle crash, your compensation for damages is cut in half.
Employers could raise additional defenses depending on the facts of the case. Holding an employer vicariously liable for damages could substantially increase the amount of money you receive for a personal injury claim. Therefore, it is wise to consult with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible if you suspect the person who hurt you was on the job at the time of the accident.
Are Employers Held Vicariously Liable for Independent Contractors?
Independent contractors are not employees. They work for themselves and contract with other parties to perform services for the company.
Therefore, since they are not employees, employers are generally not vicariously liable for damages caused by independent contractors. However, there are exceptions.
If an employer intentionally misclassifies an employee as an independent contractor, the employer could be liable for damages caused by the “independent contractor.” It would be up to you to prove that the independent contractor is actually an employee.
Also, employers could be vicariously liable if they hire an independent contractor to perform inherently dangerous activities. Negligent hiring is another reason an employer could be liable. Additionally, assigning non-delegable tasks to an independent contractor could result in vicarious liability for a company.
The court would weigh the evidence based on the facts and circumstances of the case. It is ultimately the injured party’s burden to prove that an employer should be held liable even though an independent contractor committed the tortious act.
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