Vicarious Liability

The term “vicarious liability” describes a situation where one party bears liability for the wrongdoing of another. While this might not seem fair on the surface, it makes sense in many different contexts. Vicarious liability can benefit you if you have a personal injury claim, because it increases the number of parties you can file your claim against.

Continue reading to learn more about vicarious liability and its applicability in personal injury law.

Respondeat Superior (Employer Liability)

Respondeat Superior (Employer Liability)

Respondeat superior is an ancient legal doctrine that means “Let the master answer.” In personal injury law, it usually means that employers can bear liability for the wrongdoing of their employees. 

Let’s say an IBM employee harms you through negligent conduct, for example. Under the right circumstances, you might be able to sue IBM itself. This might make sense, since employees typically lack the financial resources to pay large claims.

Vicarious liability applies when the employee who committed wrongdoing was acting within the scope of their employment. If a UPS employee hits your car while making a delivery in a UPS truck, for example, you might be able to sue UPS. 

If, on the other hand, the employee was taking a “joy ride” in the truck at the time, they probably were not acting within the scope of their employment.

Contrast: Independent Contractors

An independent contractor performs services for their clients, but they are not employees of any employer. An example might be the plumber who comes to fix your sink. If they work for themselves and use their own tools, they are probably independent contractors, not employees. 

As such, even if you hire them, you are not automatically liable for any wrongdoing they commit. You can bear liability, however, if you were negligent in some way. 

Suppose, for example, that you hired a driver without checking their driving record. They had two recent DUIs, and while driving for you, they caused an injury accident while intoxicated. You might bear liability for negligent hiring.

Common examples of independent contractors that you should be aware of include:

  • Truck drivers: Commercial truck drivers are usually independent contractors, not employees of the trucking companies they work for. That means that in the event of an accident, you can’t sue the trucking company. It usually doesn’t matter, however, because truck drivers are usually very well-insured.
  • Doctors who work in hospitals. Normally, you cannot sue a hospital for the medical malpractice of a doctor who works there. This usually doesn’t matter either, because doctors are typically very well-insured.

It is impossible to determine for certain in advance whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee. A court makes this decision at trial.

Product Liability

Under certain circumstances, the distributor of a product can bear liability for a manufacturing defect in a product, even though the distributor did not manufacture the product. 

An injured victim might sue the distributor, for example, if the distributor is located in the US, the accident occurred in the US, and the manufacturer is located in China.

Dram Shop Liability

The Illinois Dram Shop Act allows people injured in DUI accidents to sue the establishment that sold alcohol to the driver who caused the injury. It also imposes liability for DUI accidents on people over 21 who rent premises knowing that underage drinking will occur there (this is known as the ”high school party rule”). 

One of the reasons for the existence of dram shop laws is to allow victims of DUI accidents to find someone to sue who can afford to pay the claim. Drivers who cause DUI accidents often lack the money to pay large claims, and they often lack even the legal minimum liability insurance.

Parental Liability

Under Illinois law, a minor (under 18) cannot always be sued for damages—it depends on the circumstances. In any case, very few minors have any personal assets anyway. Under many circumstances, the Illinois Parental Responsibility Law allows you to sue the parents of a minor if the minor’s conduct causes you personal injury. 

Vehicle Ownership

Under certain circumstances, you can bear liability if you give permission to someone else to drive your car and they subsequently cause an accident. This rule, of course, does not apply if someone stole your car.

Dog Ownership

Obviously, you cannot sue a dog for damages. If you own a dog, however, you can face dog bite liability if the dog bites someone. Although homeowner’s insurance typically covers dog bites (with certain exclusions), dog bite claims typically amount to tens of thousands of dollars. 

Some states apply a “one bite rule” that immunizes a dog owner against liability if the dog has never before shown any aggressive tendencies. Illinois doesn’t have a “one-bite rule,” however. An Illinois dog owner can face liability no matter how gentle the dog has been in the past. 

General Partnership Liability

If you join a limited partnership, you share liability for the acts of the other partners that further the partnership business. Normally, this doesn’t involve personal injury liability, but sometimes it does.

A Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Find a “Deep-Pockets” Defendant

Many personal injury defendants simply cannot afford to pay a sizable claim, even with insurance. A “deep pockets” defendant, by contrast, is an individual or organization that can certainly afford to pay. 

Your Chicago personal injury lawyer might be able to use the concept of vicarious liability to bring a third party into your case. Contact the experienced Attorneys of Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers today for a free case review.  You can call us at (312) 929-2884.