Vicarious liability often comes up in lawsuits in Alabama, particularly against trucking companies. We are often asked by clients who have done some research before hiring a lawyer what this term means in general and what it means for their case in particular.
The simplest meaning of vicarious liability (or also known as “respondeat superior”) is that one person (the master or principal) is held legally responsible for the tort or wrongful act of another (the servant or agent). We will discuss in another blog post the idea of “negligent entrustment” which is another manner in which one person can be held legally liable or legally responsible for the wrongful acts of another but generally vicarious liability is how this occurs.
While there are certainly exceptions to this the basic gist is that an employer or principal has hired an employee or agent and if that employee or agent commits a tort while working for the employer or principal, then the employer or principal is liable. So, if a truck driver runs a red light while driving for FedEx, for example, then FedEx is responsible for that wrongful conduct. It doesn’t normally matter if FedEx tells its drivers not to run red lights. It doesn’t matter because FedEx is getting the benefit of having its employees act on its behalf and it must compensate those Alabama residents who are injured by the negligence of FedEx employees.
The test is whether the employee or agent or servant was “acting in the line and scope of his or her employment (or agency)”. If so, then normally the employer or principal is liable. If not, then there is normally no liability.
Anytime someone in Alabama has been injured in a car wreck or truck wreck, we always want to know if the person who was negligent was “on the job” or running an errand for somebody else as that other person or company may be responsible. This is critically important as often times the negligent person does not have insurance or only has the minimum amount ($25,000) but the principal or employer may have enough to fully compensate our injured client.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about this or your particular situation if you do not already have a lawyer.