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Vicarious Liability

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Vicarious liability’ refers to the circumstances where the law holds one party liable for another party’s misconduct. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? But the law allows it to happen from time to time. Believe it or not, under certain circumstances, it actually makes sense.

Employer Liability for Employee Misconduct 

The most common form of vicarious liability is employer liability for employee negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct within the scope of their employment. If one employee injures another employee, the workers’ compensation system typically handles the claim under its own set of legal standards based on no-fault principles.

On the other hand, if an employee’s misconduct harms a third party, the third party might file a claim against the employee, the employer, or both of them. A third party will typically ignore the employee and sue the employer under the ‘deep pockets’ theory of compensation—the idea that it’s best to claim against a party who has the financial resources to pay the claim.   

The Employer/Independent Contractor Distinction

Not everyone who ‘works for’ a company is an actual employee. Instead of serving as an employee, they might be an independent contractor. The more independent they are of the company, the more likely they are to qualify as independent contractors rather than employees. For example, they might be independent contractors if they use their own work tools and equipment.

Typical examples of independent contractors include most commercial truck drivers and most doctors who work at hospitals. If they are, you cannot sue their trucking company or hospital based on vicarious liability. You can still sue these parties based on their own negligence.

Product Liability Claims

A product liability claim arises when you suffer an injury because of a defective product. Perhaps you’re harmed by defectively manufactured prescription medication, for example, or perhaps a cigarette lighter explodes in your face. 

When something like this happens, as long as you can identify a manufacturing defect, a design defect, or a warning defect that renders the product unreasonably dangerous, you can sue any party in the product’s chain of distribution. It doesn’t matter whether or not they were at fault.

Suppose, for example, that a defectively manufactured prescription medication gave you kidney stones. You discover that the manufacturer is difficult to sue because they are located in China. 

So, instead, you sue the distributor of the product, Walmart. You might successfully hold Walmart liable for a manufacturing defect even though Walmart didn’t even manufacture the product. It will be Walmart’s responsibility to sue the Chinese manufacturer if it wants to.

Dram Shop Liability

Florida’s dram shop law holds liquor stores, bars, nightclubs, and social hosts liable for serving alcohol to underage or already-intoxicated customers or guests. Social hosts are liable only for serving minors (under 21) or allowing them to be served or to drink. 

A bar or nightclub can bear liability for knowingly serving someone who is ‘habitually addicted’ to alcohol. Talk to your lawyer if you have questions because this law is rather complex.   

Parental Liability for the Actions of Minor Children

In a sense, vicarious liability is a type of no-fault liability. If you are vicariously liable, the defendant doesn’t have to prove you were at fault to win. As a parent, you can bear liability without fault for the misconduct of your minor child (under 18) under the following circumstances:

  • You can bear liability if your child negligently or intentionally harms someone using a motor vehicle. As long as your child was negligent, you cannot escape liability by proving that you did not consent for your child to drive the vehicle.
  • Your minor child, who lives with you, vandalizes someone else’s property. By statute, Florida limits a parent’s liability for their minor child’s vandalism to actual damage plus court costs.

This liability applies if you were not at fault for your child’s misconduct. Different standards apply if the victim can establish negligence on your part. 

The ‘Dangerous Instrumentality’ Doctrine 

Under Florida’s ‘dangerous instrumentality’ rule, you can bear liability if you give someone else permission to use your ‘dangerous instrumentality’ and they harm someone with it. A car, for example, is a dangerous instrumentality. 

This doctrine is not limited to your child, however. It also applies if you loan your car to your brother-in-law or your next-door neighbor. It also applies to other ‘dangerous instrumentalities’ such as chainsaws.

A Tampa Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

Tampa personal injury lawyers usually work on a contingency fee basis. That means if they don’t win, you don’t pay attorney’s fees. If you do win, your fees will amount to a pre-agreed percentage of whatever amount you win. 

Ultimately, it’s the strength of your claim that matters, not the thickness of your wallet. Set up a free initial consultation with an attorney at Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers as soon as you can at (813) 223-6200.

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