Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that is commonly invoked in premises liability cases. Whether you’re an accident victim, a business owner, or an employee caught in the middle, knowing how vicarious liability works and what your obligations are under it can help you better prepare for a case that involves it. While a lawyer can help you navigate the complexities of vicarious liability, this guide can give you an introduction to the subject.
What is Vicarious Liability?
Vicarious liability means that an employer is the one who is ultimately responsible for any injuries or damages caused by their employees. It only comes into play if the damages were caused during the course of work duties — for example, if a store clerk causes an accident while stocking shelves, their employer is the ones liable for injuries.
What’s the Purpose of Vicarious Liability?
The reason vicarious liability exists is to protect workers. Under vicarious liability, you can’t be sued for damages you caused by simply doing your job — even if you might have been found negligent otherwise. Your activities were carried out at the behest of your employer, who is considered to be at fault because they could have trained you differently or given you closer supervision.
It also exists to protect the victims. For example; if you’re injured because of an unsafe situation at a store, suing the part-time floor worker may not be in your best interest anyway; that individual may simply not have the resources (or insurance policy) to cover your injuries. The employer, on the other hand, likely has liability insurance, as well as the resources to handle your claim.
What Kinds of Cases Does Vicarious Liability Cover?
Vicarious liability is most common in premises liability cases where a person was injured on the property of a business — but it comes up in other types of claims, as well. It’s often contrasted with strict liability and joint liability, which are other standards for assigning liability in personal injury cases.
What Types of Workers Are Covered By Vicarious Liability?
It’s different for employees versus independent contractors:
- Employees are almost always covered by vicarious liability, meaning it is almost always the employer who’s responsible. Under Georgia law, this is a hard rule: employees cannot sign away this right, and contracts that attempt to waive it are considered null
- Independent contractors (freelancers or “1099 workers”) are often not covered by vicarious liability. In other words, there are many cases where a contractor is liable for the damages on their own — even if those damages were caused during the course of the work they were doing. But this isn’t always true. Under Georgia law, employers are still liable for their contractors’ actions if:
- The action that the contractor carried out was required by contract or by law,
- The type of work the employer wanted to be done is inherently wrongful or dangerous,
- The employer stepped in and told the contractor to carry out the action, or
- The employer “ratified” (approved of or stood behind) the action/work that caused the damages
If you are a contractor and you are being sued for something that went wrong in the course of your work, be aware that the company that employed you may still share liability. You may be able to recoup some or all of the damages you are responsible for from the employer.
Are There Exceptions to Vicarious Liability?
Yes. The employer is only liable if the injury or damages were caused while they were carrying out duties in the scope of their employment.
So, for example; a delivery driver who hit a pedestrian while delivering packages is covered, and the employer is at fault for the accident. But an office worker who hit a pedestrian on the commute to work is not covered, because driving a car isn’t part of their job. The office worker would be the one at fault for their own accident — and would be well advised to speak to a car accident lawyer.
Likewise, there may be extreme cases where an employee goes far outside of their work duties and undertakes actions that the employer never asked for or approved of. For example; a delivery driver who takes off joyriding in the delivery vehicle instead of doing their job may be liable for their own actions. But the employer may still be partly liable because they had a duty to screen, train and supervise their workers.
Injured? We Can Help.
If you’ve been injured, you shouldn’t be stuck wondering who is legally liable or whether you can get money. Our personal injury lawyers have over 20 years of experience winning cases for victims — and we charge nothing if we don’t get your money. Let us give you a FREE consultation to get your answers and help you see the next steps. Fill out the form to your right, or call us at 404-400-4000 to get your FREE consultation today.