What is Vicarious Liability and What Does it Have to do with Personal Injury Claims?

An employee at an assisted living facility in Central Florida stabbed a patient with dementia with a fork Monday before fleeing from the facility. The employee, Jessica Stephenson, was seen in security footage stabbing the 76-year-old patient’s hand several times according to the Haines City Police Department.

The assisted living facility reported that the patient has a mental capacity of a young child and is incoherent. She was treated for the puncture wounds that were made on her right hand. A warrant has been issued for Stephenson’s arrest.

What is Vicarious Liability?

If you are in a car accident in which someone else crashes into you, you may think you know who is responsible for your injuries. However, there may be more to it than you realize. For example, let us say the driver who hit you is working for a trucking company and was in the process of making a delivery when he struck your vehicle.

In that case, it may not be the driver who is responsible for your injuries. Instead, it could be the employer that has to pay up. Why, you ask? The answer is vicarious liability. When a company hires an employee, they are held responsible for certain actions by the employee due to vicarious liability. This law holds a party liable for the negligent acts that are committed by someone else.

The relationship between and employer and employee is not the only situation in which vicarious liability plays a role. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine if vicarious liability would be an effective way to obtain the compensation to which you may be entitled.

Limits to Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability will not apply in every situation in which a business relationship exists between the negligent party and a third party. For example, vehicle leasing companies can not be held responsible for accidents that are caused by a driver who rents a vehicle according to the Florida Supreme Court.

In addition, Florida is a comparative negligence state. This means that a plaintiff may lose out on part of their compensation if they are partially to blame for their injuries. In this situation, a defendant will pay damages in proportion to their percentage of fault.

Respondeat Superior

The above term is the Latin term for “let the superior answer.” This means that an employer is legally responsible for their employees’ actions. However, this only applies when an employee is acting within the scope and course of the duties of their job. In other words, the employer is typically only liable when the employee was doing their job or carrying out company business when the accident took place.

The reason for this law is fairly simple. Employers are held responsible for the costs of their business, even when the cost is due to the misconduct or carelessness of their employee. Injuries and accidents caused by employees is one of the risks of business.

However, if an employee’s actions were independent, their employer may not be held liable, as in the example below:

A technology company provides their staff cars to make sales calls. After work, an employee strikes a pedestrian while doing personal errands. The company likely will not be held responsible.

Careless Hiring and Retention

Under this legal theory, a person who is injured by the employee of a company may be able to sue the company for failing to take proper care in hiring their employees (negligent hiring), or keeping them employed after learning that they are a threat (negligent retention). This rule will even apply to a company’s employees if the negligence happens outside of their scope of employment. In fact, this law often holds an employer responsible for an employee’s violent criminal acts such as robbery and murder that occur while working.

However, a company is only legally responsible under this law if they acted carelessly, meaning they should have known or knew that the employee was unfit for the position, such as in the situations below:

  • A pizza company’s delivery driver has a criminal past of sexual assault. After the employee raped a customer while delivering pizza, the company was liable to the victim for negligent hiring.
  • The employee of a car rental company assaulted a coworker. If the company had done a thorough background check, they would have discovered he had done time in prison. The company was held liable to the victim.
  • A furniture company hired a delivery driver without performing a background check. That employee later assaulted a customer in her home. The company was then held liable for negligent hiring.

Avoiding Negligent Hiring and Retention Claims

Although lawsuits have not appeared in every state for these laws, the trend is increasing. So, what can a company do to stay out of trouble?

  • Perform thorough background checks. Make it a company policy to run a background check on an applicant before hiring them. Verify information on their resume, look for any criminal convictions, and do a check on their driving record. This will ensure that you were not careless in the hiring process.
  • Use extra caution when hiring workers who have a lot of contact with the public. The actions of these workers are more likely to be responsible for claims, so use extra caution when hiring workers who will go to a customer’s home, work with vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, or those whose jobs give them access to weapons.
  • Terminate problem employees immediately. When it comes to negligent retention, if you keep an employee hired after learning that they are a potential danger, you need to take immediately action. If an employee has made threats or racks up moving violations, it is time to act.

Contact a Florida Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you or your family member has been injured due to the negligence of someone who was working at the time of the accident, you may have legal options beyond filing a claim against the negligent driver. The attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi have decades of experience helping their clients get the compensation they deserve. They can review your case and determine if vicarious liability might be an option in your situation. Contact them today to schedule a consultation.