What is Vicarious Liability and Why Does It Matter?

What is Vicarious Liability and Why Does It Matter?Car crashes and other such incidents often cause catastrophic injuries, such as wrongful death. These victims could be entitled to substantial compensation. Unfortunately, Texas has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. Since most people only carry the minimum, individual tortfeasors (negligent drivers) might not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation in many cases.

Fortunately, Texas also has extremely favorable vicarious liability rules. These doctrines hold employers and other entities responsible for many falls and car crashes. Third-party liability gives victims an additional source of recovery.

Compensation in a personal injury case usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, if there is clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor was extremely reckless.

Employer Liability

Generally, vicarious liability applies if, due to a relationship between the two, a third party had a chance to prevent a car crash or other tortfeasor injury and did nothing. A boss and a worker is a good example. Respondeat superior (let the master answer) is the most common employer liability theory in Texas. There are two basic prongs:

  • Employee: The tortfeasor must be an employee of a company. In this context, anyone that the employer controls, in terms of something like work hours, is an employee. This broad definition includes independent contractors, owner-operators, and even unpaid volunteers. People like truck drivers, Uber drivers, and volunteer church van drivers are all employees.

  • Scope of Employment: This element is broadly defined as well. In the old days, the scope of employment was limited to situations like a regular delivery driver on a regular route. But today, any conduct that benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. Uber drivers on their way to pickups are within the scope of employment. Since their vehicles have those “U”s in the windshields, the employer benefits from the free advertising.

Other employer liability theories, which often come up in assault and other intentional tort claims, include negligent hiring and negligent supervision.

Alcohol Provider Liability

Similarly, commercial alcohol providers, like restaurants and grocery stores, are in a position to prevent alcohol-related crashes. So, these commercial entities are vicariously liable for damages if they illegally sell alcohol. In Texas, illegal sale means:

  • Under 21: If the tortfeasor was under 21, the provider is usually liable for damages as a matter of law. The old “s/he looked older” defense never works, and the “s/he used a fake ID defense” generally does not work either.

  • Obviously Intoxicated: If the tortfeasor was over 21, the victim/plaintiff may introduce circumstantial evidence of intoxication at the time of sale. Such evidence includes the tortfeasor’s admissions, bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, and slurred speech.

Foreseeability may be an issue in packaged alcohol sales. Arguably, it is foreseeable that a person will open a beer and drink on the way home, but some judges do not see things that way.

Party hosts and other noncommercial alcohol providers may be vicariously liable for damages as well, under a theory like negligent undertaking or negligent entrustment.

The tortfeasor may not be the only party responsible for car crash damages in Texas. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.