Vicarious Liability

Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability is a legal concept that holds one party liable for harm caused by the wrongful act of another party.

In many cases, the vicariously liable party does not have to be at fault. Following is a list of some of the most common forms of vicarious liability.

Principal/Agent Liability

In a principal/agent relationship, a principal appoints an agent to act on their behalf. Examples include:

  • A company employer hires an employee to perform tasks on behalf of the company;
  • You loan your car to someone to run an errand for you;
  • You appoint someone to manage your finances in case you become incapacitated by illness or injury.
Principal/Agent Liability

In the personal injury context, the most common form of principal/agent relationship is the employer/employee relationship. If an employee injures a third party through their misconduct, the injured party might be able to hold the employer liable for the resulting losses. This vicarious liability applies even if the employer committed no misconduct. The injury must have been foreseeable, and the employee must have been acting within the scope of their employment.

Liability for the Misconduct of an Independent Contractor

An independent contractor is not the same as an employee. If you hire a full-time receptionist to work the desk at your office, they are probably an employee. If you hire a plumber to fix your sink, they are probably an independent contractor. It doesn’t matter what you call them—it matters how much independence they have from your control and direction.

Commercial truckers and physicians who work at hospitals are two examples of independent contractors who most people assume are employees. Not all commercial truckers or hospital physicians are independent contractors, but most are. This distinction matters because it is more difficult to hold the hiring party liable for an independent contractor’s misconduct than for an employee’s misconduct.

Vicarious Liability for the Actions of Independent Contractors

Someone who hires an independent contractor can face vicarious liability for the misconduct of an independent contractor under the following circumstances: 

  • They negligently hired an independent contractor. For example, they might have hired a commercial trucker with multiple DUIs.
  • The independent contractor is engaging in an inherently dangerous activity, such as blasting.
  • The hiring party attempts to delegate a non-delegable duty to an independent contractor.

For example, the hiring party might be attempting to delegate a duty in violation of a state statute.

Product Liability

Under product liability law, you can file a personal injury claim over a defective product that injured you. You might have fallen ill due to a defective drug, for example. One form of product liability law is called strict product liability. Strict product liability can impose vicarious liability.

Under strict product liability law, you have to prove that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous. You do not have to prove that anyone was at fault for the product’s condition. Furthermore, you can sue anyone in the chain of distribution of the product. You can sue:

  • Manufacturers;
  • Wholesalers; and
  • Retailers.

You can sue any of these parties regardless of whether they were at fault. You can sue a retailer for a manufacturing defect, for example.

Parental Liability

You can hold a parent liable for harm caused by their child’s misconduct if:

  • The child is over 10 and under 18 years old; and
  • The parent entrusted the child with a “dangerous instrument.” A “dangerous instrument” might mean something designed as a weapon (such as a gun), but it is not limited to this. 

New York’s parental liability law is more favorable to parents than the equivalent laws in most other states.

Alcohol Vendors and Social Hosts

Suppose you suffered an injury in a DUI accident caused by someone else. Suppose further that your losses are significant and the driver lacks the financial resources to pay more than a small fraction of your claim. You can file a personal injury claim against:

  • An alcohol vendor (a nightclub, for example) that served the defendant alcohol after they were visibly intoxicated; or
  • A social host who knowingly allowed minors to consume alcohol at a party or other gathering. 

New York’s dram shop law enables this type of vicarious liability, as long as the resulting intoxication was a substantial cause of the accident. 

Civil Conspiracy Claims

Under certain circumstances, all parties involved in a conspiracy to commit a harmful act can bear liability for that harm’s civil (and criminal) consequences, even if they did not personally commit the act that caused the harm.

Business Partners

Certain types of business partners, such as unlimited partners, can bear liability for the consequences of another partner’s misconduct. The perpetrator must have committed the harm in furtherance of the partnership’s business. Limited partners bear no such liability. 

Find a New York City Personal Injury Attorney

The primary purpose of vicarious liability is to help an injured party receive compensation when the at-fault party lacks the resources to pay the claim. A skilled personal injury lawyer will know how to look for a third party who might bear vicarious liability. If you need legal help, contact Rosenbaum Personal Injury Lawyers to discuss your legal options. We offer a free consultation and are available 24/7 at (212) 514 5007.