What is Vicarious Liability and Why Does It Matter?
In a catastrophic injury claim, like a spine injury or wrongful death, the damages could run into the millions of dollars. California has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. As a result, many tortfeasors (negligent drivers) do not have nearly enough coverage to provide fair compensation in these situations.
To obtain additional compensation, these victims could sue the tortfeasors individually. But such actions are cumbersome and often unsuccessful. Due to property exemptions and bankruptcy laws, most people are effectively judgement-proof.
So, a San Jose personal injury attorney often utilizes vicarious liability, or third-party liability, theories. While the tortfeasor is individually and morally responsible for the wreck, a third party often could have prevented the wreck from happening. So, that third party could be financially responsible for car crash damages.
A captain is ultimately responsible for the crew’s conduct, and a coach is ultimately responsible for the team’s performance. In the same way, employers are ultimately responsible for the negligence of their employees.
If the tortfeasor was a taxi driver, Uber driver, truck driver, or other commercial operator, the respondeat superior theory typically applies. This theory has three basic elements in California:
- Employer: In California, most commercial operators are owner-operators or independent contractors, at least for most purposes. But for negligence purposes, these individuals are usually employees. Some general degree of employer control is all that’s required.
- Scope of Employment: California law also interprets this respondeat superior prong in broad, victim-friendly terms. Any act which benefits the employer in any way is usually within the scope of employment. That includes activities like driving an empty bus to a garage.
- Foreseeability: A car crash must be a foreseeable result of the employer-employee relationship. Normally, this respondeat superior element is easy to establish, unless the tortfeasor did something like break into the motor pool and steal a car.
This list is perhaps most remarkable for what is not there, as opposed to what is there. Respondeat superior usually applies even if the employer did not know anything about the crash or the circumstances leading up to it. Alternative theories, such as negligent supervision and negligent hiring, may apply in these cases. These legal doctrines often apply in assault and other intentional tort claims. A car crash is an unintentional tort.
Specific control is not an element of respondeat superior, but it is an element of the negligent entrustment rule. Owners are financially responsible for car crash damages if they knowingly allow incompetent operators to use their motor vehicles. Evidence of incompetence includes:
- Inexperienced operator (g. the tortfeasor has only driven a Honda and borrows an Escalade),
- Poor driving record,
- Driving in violation of license restrictions, such as no freeway driving,
- Poor driving record which includes recent at-fault accidents,
- Safety-suspended drivers’ license, and
- No drivers’ license.
This evidence is roughly in ascending order. Inexperience, without more, is usually insufficient to prove incompetence. On the other end of the spectrum, unlicensed drivers are usually incompetent as a matter of law, no matter how much experience they have.
Commercial negligent entrustment claims, such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car claims, work differently, because of the Graves Amendment. These victims must normally prove additional facts in order to obtain compensation.
This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Count on a Thorough Lawyer
The tortfeasor is often not the only party who is responsible for car wreck damages. For a free consultation with an experienced San Jose car accident attorney, contact Solution Now Law Firm. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.