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“Respondeat Superior” Explained

Some of those who come seeking assistance from us here at Garland, Samuel, and Loeb have experienced insult or harm at the hands of others acting under the employ of a company or organization. Often, their first questions center around how far liability extends in such cases. Can an employer actually be held liable for the actions of his or her employees? This is the question that we will try to answer in this post.

According to the Cornell University Law School, the legal doctrine outlining vicarious liability for employers and employees is referred to as “Respondeat Superior.” It states that an employer can be held legally responsible for the actions of employees provided that those actions were within the scope of the employee’s job duties. This definition may make this principle seem fairly cut-and-dry; after all, if an employee was on the job when he or she committed an offense, then one can hardly argue that those actions were outside the scope of employment, right? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is rarely so clear.

Respondeat superior takes into account a number of different factors when assuming liability. These include the specific details related to the employee’s conduct, exactly how much freedom he or she was given to perform expected job functions, and his or her own intent. Examples of where this legal doctrine may be applied include:

  • A security guard assaulting a guest at an event
  • A transit driver whose carelessness causes an accident
  • A auto services worker who damages a customer’s car

However, if it’s proven that an employee intentionally acted in a way meant to cause harm or injury, then the respondeat superior principle may not apply.

To learn more about the extent of employer or property owner negligence, visit our Premises Liability page.

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