What is Vicarious Liability in Texas?
Vicarious liability is a legal theory, under Texas law, that places legal responsibility on someone for the wrongful actions of another. It is also known as derivative liability, meaning that someone else can be held liable “vicariously” or “derivatively” for the actions of another person. This normally arises in an employer/employee relationship. But it can occur in other relationships.
Employer Liability for Actions of an Employee.
One of the most common situations in which vicarious liability arises is when an employer is held responsible for the actions of an employee committed during the course and scope of the employment. Under the theory of vicarious liability, an employer is responsible for the wrongful acts of their employee regardless of whether the employer did anything to cause or contribute to the incident.
For instance, if you are involved in an auto accident with a company vehicle, such as an 18 wheeler or work van, the driver could be personally liable for the damages or injuries caused in the accident. However, the employer or company would also be responsible even though the company bosses and supervisors may not have been anywhere near the accident when it happened. The liability is automatically shifted to the employer without anything more.
“Course and Scope” of Employment.
Vicarious liability in an employment situation requires that the wrongful acts are committed in the “course and scope” of employment. In other words, the actions of the employee were done in furtherance of the employee’s duties and responsibilities of employment. “Course and scope” is the element where many vicarious liability claims are most scrutinized.Let’s say that your are involved in an accident with a company truck. But, at the time of the accident, the driver was on his way home from making his last delivery. The employer might argue that the employee was not in the “course and scope” of employment at the time of the accident. That might be a valid defense depending on all the circumstances at the time. If the employee was headed home, then you might not be able to show vicarious liability on the employer.
At the same time, if the employee was on his way back to the company to drop off the van before going home for the day, then you can show that the employee was still in the course and scope of his employment. The difference is that taking the vehicle back to company property was being done at the direction, and for the benefit, of the employer. Therefore, the employer would still be liable even though the employee was done with his last job that day.
Criminal Acts of the Employee.
The application of vicarious liability becomes even more complicated when you are seeking to hold an employer responsible for the criminal acts of the employee. Again, it all depends on the nature of the criminal acts and the circumstances under which it was committed.
For example, let’s assume that an employee was at lunch and had a consumed a few beers. If the employee is involved in an accident after his lunch break and is charged with DWI, that wold be a criminal act. However, the employer might try to argue that they are not responsible for the criminal acts of their employee because drinking on the job is not part of his employment responsibilities. On the contrary, the employer would still be liable since the auto accident occurred while the employee was in the course and scope of his employment duties.
But the analysis becomes more complicated where the employee commits a more serious violation, such as an assault or even a murder. The issue will always come down to the nature of the employee’s actions. For instance, if a security guard uses excessive force in trying to subdue a suspected shoplifter, the employee would be responsible for the assault because the employee was acting in furtherance of the employee’s duties and responsibilities in preventing theft.
However, what if the employee commits a murder while on the job? Again, it depends on the facts and circumstances. In my previous example, if the security guard uses such force as to kill the suspected shoplifter, then the employer may be vicariously liable for the wrongful death because the murder occurred as the employee was furthering the employer’s policy of preventing theft.
But the employer might not be vicariously liable in situations where the criminal act has nothing to do with the employee’s duties. An example would include a cable or appliance repairman who enters the customer’s home and murders the homeowner. No vicarious liability would stand because the acts of the employee had nothing to do with furthering the employer’s duties and responsibilities to the customer.
How Does Vicarious Liability Help my Injury Case?
Let’s say you are involved in an accident with another vehicle. If you can show that a person was acting in the course and scope of their employment at the time, then you can join their employer into the claim or subsequent lawsuit.
What that means is that there may be money available to pay for your injuries through a commercial insurance policy. Additionally, if your case proceeds to trial, then the jury will know that a party with access to more money is in the suit and may render a higher verdict.
Proving that the other driver was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the accident may be difficult, especially when the other vehicle is not a company vehicle. Even if the other vehicle is a personal vehicle, vicarious liability would still apply if the other driver was on a work-related matter at the time of the accident.
Final ThoughtsVicarious liability can be quite helpful especially in situations involving an accident with very serious injuries or even resulting in a fatality. If you are successful in proving it in your case, most likely there will be a commercial policy available to compensate you. Therefore, it is always important to be note anything that might clue you off that the other driver is on the job. Sometime its easy, especially when the other vehicle is a large truck or van. Or if the other vehicle has as a company name or logo on it. But sometimes the issue might escape you if the other vehicle is a personal car with no distinguishing markings.
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