Respondeat Superior Definition

Respondeat superior is a common law doctrine holding an employer or other party legally responsible for the actions of their employees or other agents, in some specific circumstances. This responsibility is sometimes called “vicarious liability.” At Berger and Green, we most often see it in accidents involving commercial vehicles, public transportation, and similar incidents.

Why Is Respondeat Superior Important?

The doctrine of respondeat superior allows us to hold a company or agency responsible for your accident injuries instead of the individual driver or employees. This is especially important in truck accidents and bus crashes, where injuries are often devastating and an individual’s liability policy may not have high enough limits to cover the victim’s injuries and other damages.

For example, imagine a truck driver fails to stop in time when there is a traffic jam on the interstate. The truck plows into the rear of your car, causing life-threatening injuries and leaving you with large medical bills, months of lost wages, and future care costs for another surgery you will likely need.

We can pursue a claim for you against the trucking company, holding them vicariously liable for their employee’s negligence.

When Is an Employer Liable for the Employee’s Actions?

This type of indirect liability is most commonly used when there is an employer and employee relationship, but there may be other situations where vicarious liability comes into play, too. Any time one party might have the duty to oversee and control another party’s behavior, vicarious liability may apply if an accident occurs. Some examples of this include parents held responsible for damage done because of their minor children’s misbehavior or a car owner who loans their vehicle to someone they knew was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It is important to note that we can successfully win many of these cases without ever showing the employer or other responsible party had any idea about—or participated in—the negligent act itself. In fact, many trucking companies could not do anything to prevent their employees’ truck accidents. Yet they are legally liable for paying for your damages. The truck driver is rarely independently liable, either on their own or as a joint tortfeasor in these cases.

When Does Respondeat Superior Not Apply to a Case?

There are, however, some exceptions to the doctrine of respondeat superior. For example, if a truck driver stops along his route and robs a bank, the trucking company most likely will not be liable for this criminal act. Unless the employer orders or can foresee an intentional act, they are unlikely to be liable.

To win these cases and hold the employer or other third party vicariously liable, we need to show:

  • You suffered injuries because of an employee’s action while they were on the clock;
  • Your injuries occurred while the employee was participating in a work-related activity; and
  • The employer benefitted from the employee’s actions.

This means that if the truck driver intentionally breaks federal hours of service regulations to get a delivery to its destination sooner and this leads to the trucker falling asleep behind the wheel, the trucking company is liable for any resulting injuries.

Berger and Green: Pittsburgh Personal Injury Attorneys

At Berger and Green, we work with personal injury accident victims, helping them identify all possible liable parties and fighting for the full amount of compensation they deserve. If you suffered injuries in a Pittsburgh accident, call us today at 412-661-1400. We offer complimentary consultations and handle these cases on a contingency basis.