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What Is Vicarious Liability and How Does it Apply to Employers in a Work Injury Case in Texas?

Vicarious liability - The reason that employers are responsible for injuries caused by your co-workers.

Workplace accidents happen all too frequently, and this article will discuss what happens when the negligence of another employee is responsible for your injury. With a few exceptions, the employer is typically at least partially responsible for any injuries that occur due to the negligence of their employees. This is called "vicarious liability."

Questions Answered on This Page:

  • What exactly is vicarious liability?
  • Who is responsible if my co-worker injures me on the job?
  • Do I sue my employer or my co-worker if I was injured at work?
  • Is it fair to make employers responsible for injuries caused by co-workers?

What is vicarious liability?

Generally speaking, vicarious liability is a term used to refer to one party being liable for the actions of another. In other words, Steve did not actually hurt anyone, but Steve is still liable because Susan hurt someone, and Steve exercises some degree of control over Susan. Vicarious liability exists in several forms, but the long and short of it is that it applies to accidents where some "agent" works for a "principal," or where a "servant" works for a "master."

The specific variety of vicarious liability that applies to co-worker-caused injuries is called "respondeat superior." Respondeat superior is a Latin phrase that essentially means "let the master answer," as in, "let the master answer in court for the mistakes made by their servants." If a worker is injured by a co-worker, it will be deemed the employer's fault if the injured worker can prove the following:

  • The co-worker was in fact an employee of the company
  • The injured worker was hurt through the carelessness of the co-worker
  • The act of negligence was committed while the co-worker was operating under the authority their employer granted them, as they worked to further the company's interests, and in order to fulfill their normal job duties.

If a worker is hurt on the job by a co-worker and the injured worker can prove those elements, then the employer will be vicariously liable under the theory of respondeat superior.

Why employers are held vicariously liable, as a matter of policy.

We're often asked, "How is it fair that the employer is held liable for the conduct of their employees?" The best answer to that question is that it wouldn't be fair if a company could get all of the positives of an employer-employee relationship and not get any of the negatives.

Imagine how inefficient business would be if only the owner of a company could enter into a contract or other relationship with a customer. Or if only the owner was allowed to cut payroll checks or use the company credit card. In the real world, it doesn't work this way. Employers are allowed to delegate tasks to employees who can then act on the owner's behalf to engage in business.

Obviously it would make little sense if the law allowed companies to benefit from the conduct of their employees while and simultaneously enabling them to avoid any negative consequences of an employee's conduct. So, the way the law sees it, if one can benefit from an employee acting on their behalf, one is also responsible for most problems created when employees operate on their behalf.

An example: You are working at a production plant when a forklift driver backs into you and injures you. The driver that hit you was negligent and therefore responsible; and, since the accident happened during the course and scope of the forklift driver's employment, the employer is also responsible via the "vicarious liability" rule.

Limits on vicarious liability.

Recall that we mentioned that there are some exceptions to the employer's vicarious liability. Some courts and state laws will examine the employee's actions and determine if they are acting within the course and scope of their employment or whether the act was intentional. The idea here is that an employer can't be held liable when an employee deviates from responsibilities delegated to them.

For example, the forklift driver we spoke of earlier was acting within the course and scope of his employment when he caused the accident. But let's assume that the forklift driver was not doing his job and, instead, was racing the forklift against another employee for fun. Since racing forklifts is likely not within the job description of forklift drivers at your plant, the employer would not be held liable for any injuries that resulted. In this example, the forklift driver's racing is what the law calls a "frolic" (a departure from the course and scope of employment done on company time) and, again, the employer won't be held liable for that.

Another limit on vicarious liability is when an worker is hurt by the INTENTIONAL act of a co-worker. Let's continue to use the forklift driver example, but this time, let's assume that the forklift driver hits you out of anger or malice. In this case, your employer will almost never be liable for your injury. After all, how could the employer have known that the forklift driver was even capable of such misconduct? However, if the employee had, say, a history of workplace violence and your attorney was able to prove that the employer was cognizant of the violent behavior, yet continued to employ the worker, liability may be established.

All that to say, employers are usually not liable for injuries sustained by their employees that were caused intentionally by another employee unless the employer had good reason to suspect that some violent outburst was likely to occur. In the interest of being technically accurate, if such a chain of events were to transpire, the employer is not actually vicariously liable for the assailant's conduct. On the contrary, the employer turning a blind eye to the employee's past outbursts is an act of negligence in and of itself.

These limits are fact-sensitive and it can be very difficult to establish the employer's liability since it is almost certain that an employer will never simply voluntarily accept liability by saying, "We admit that we did something wrong. Please sue us." Only experienced lawyers are capable of navigating successfully in this area of the law, and it is incredibly advantageous to have one fighting your case and making sure that the correct parties are held responsible for your work injury.

Call Texas Non-Subscriber Work Injury Attorney Michael Grossman Today:

If you are recovering from your injuries to a workplace accident, what should you do next? Contact Grossman Law Offices and our experienced, competent work injury attorneys will help you determine the value of your case as well as answer any questions. We can be reached at (855) 236-0000.

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