When Is a Company Responsible for an Employee’s Actions? Vicarious Liability in Personal Injury Cases

Injury & Accident Lawyers Serving Los Angeles, Pasadena, East LA, Southern California, Stockton & Central California

Posted: May 15, 2023
When Is a Company Responsible for an Employee’s Actions? Vicarious Liability in Personal Injury Cases

If you get injured in a car accident with a commercial truck driver, can you sue the company that employs them? If a nurse at a medical practice fails to prep you properly and you get injured during a procedure, can you hold the whole practice accountable?

The answer is yes, depending on the facts of your case. Under the legal rule of vicarious liability, employers can be held financially responsible for the actions of their employees. Even parents could be held legally responsible for the actions of their children.

So how does vicarious liability work under California law?

What Is the Definition of Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious liability is when someone is legally responsible for the actions of another person because they have some power or responsibility over that person’s actions.

  • Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees while they’re on the clock. The employee essentially acts as an agent for the employer, who tells their employees what to do and provides them with the tools to do their job.
  • Parents or guardians can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their children because children under 18 are their legal responsibility.

In both cases, the employer or the parent may not be directly liable for your injuries – they may have had nothing to do with the actual incident or accident. But they can be indirectly liable because of their relationship with the person who’s actually responsible.

Employees are clearly covered under California’s vicarious liability laws. But could you hold a company vicariously liable for the actions of an independent contractor?

Employers are not as responsible for the actions of independent contractors as they are for the actions of their own employees. However, vicarious liability may still apply if the person who hired the independent contractor is careless or negligent in choosing that particular contractor, if the contractor’s work inherently involves hazardous materials or tasks, or if the tasks involve the safety and welfare of other people.

How Does Vicarious Liability Apply to Personal Injury Cases?

Vicarious liability is important in personal injury cases because:

  • It puts responsibility where it actually belongs. Companies can’t just throw their legal issues onto their employees to deal with while they escape liability for their actions.
  • Companies usually have deeper pockets or better insurance compared to individual employees. That means you can actually get the full compensation you deserve, while an employee may not have been able to afford a proper settlement.

What Are the Three Elements of Vicarious Liability?

An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you establish a case for vicarious liability. To succeed with a vicarious liability claim, you must show that:

  • Your injury was caused by an employee or agent of another person,
  • The employee or agent who caused your injury was acting within the scope of their employment or agency with the other person, and
  • The other person had the ability to control the employee or agent.

Just because someone is an employee doesn’t mean that their employer is responsible for every action they take in their lives. As soon as an employee is off the clock or an agent is no longer acting on behalf of another person, vicarious liability no longer applies.

For example, if a delivery driver gets into a car crash on their way to a drop-off, their company could be held vicariously liable for any injuries that result from the accident. However, if the same delivery driver gets into a car crash on their way home after work, they will personally be responsible for any injuries, not their employer.

What Are Common Examples of Vicarious Liability?

Every case is as unique as the people involved. However, below are some common situations where vicarious liability is likely to apply in a personal injury case:

  • An employee runs a red light and causes a crash with another car while driving a company truck to a work site on company time.
  • A doctor commits medical malpractice as an independent contractor but uses a hospital’s equipment and facilities for their practice.
  • A construction company hires a subcontractor who fails to follow proper safety standards on the job site and injures an employee or bystander as a result.
  • A security company fails to properly screen a security guard who has a history of violent convictions and ends up injuring an event attendee.
  • A daycare employee injures a child by handling them roughly.
  • A landlord fails to take steps to protect neighbors and others even though they’re aware that one of their tenants has a dangerous dog with a history of bites.
  • A hotel employee commits an assault against a guest during their shift.

In the examples above, legal responsibility goes beyond the person who directly caused an injury. Companies are responsible for the actions of their employees on company time. Hospitals are responsible for the medical professionals who use their facilities. Construction companies are responsible for hiring contractors who follow safety standards. Security providers must screen all job applicants to make sure that they are suitable for the role.

Maximizing Your Compensation With a Vicarious Liability Claim

A personal injury claim can help you get financial compensation to offset your losses from an injury caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless actions. You could recover for your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost income for the foreseeable future.

With vicarious liability, your personal injury claim will put responsibility where it really belongs and potentially set you up for a better settlement offer. Companies and organizations generally have greater financial resources than individuals, which means they can actually afford to offer you a personal injury settlement that reflects the full extent of your losses.

A vicarious liability claim can get complicated but a knowledgeable personal injury attorney can help simplify the process and navigate you through your options.

At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, our experienced team can help on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay unless you win. Click here to contact us now for your free consultation.

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