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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger

What Is Respondeat Superior in a Personal Injury Case?

Imagine a scenario in which you're the victim of an accident that has left you with serious injuries. Both you and other witnesses realize that the logo and uniform of the driver are that of a popular trucking company. You were crossing at a crosswalk while the driver had a red light. The trailer was loaded with goods for a delivery that was being made.

However, he was distracted and hit you. The police report even confirms this. While the driver does have a personal insurance policy, it won't grant the kind of coverage that you need. Your personal injury lawyer has advised you that the best course of action is to sue the company for the employee's negligence. They can also advise on what gross negligence is.

What you're trying to do here is to leverage the employment relationship between the driver and the company he works for under the respondeat superior principle.

The Respondeat Superior Meaning

The Respondeat Superior Meaning

The legal doctrine of respondeat superior comes from a Latin term that quite literally translates to "let the master answer." Whether it's a vehicular accident or some kind of incident that has led to a personal injury case, the idea is that you want to hold the employer liable for the actions of the worker.

This will require proof that the employee in question was in fact acting within the scope of employment at the time when the accident took place. Additionally, it's essential to prove that whatever conduct was being carried out was in alignment with the business pursuits of the employer. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys has more insight on the burden of proof in a personal injury case.

Of course, as is the case with a car accident or any other such incident, there is the typical requirement to demonstrate negligence on the part of the defendant and that it resulted in the injuries caused.

Was the Employee Acting within the Scope of His or Her Employment?

There will usually be a series of job requirements that an employee will have and the expectation is that while the person is on the clock, whatever actions are being taken align with these. While there are good reasons to attempt to have the employer held liable for the actions of the worker, it's difficult to do this when the employee is not on the clock or the actions being taken were not in alignment with employment requirements.

Look at the example in the first section. In this case, the driver was in the middle of a delivery when the accident took place. Since he was on the clock and doing his employer's business, then it's way more likely that a case of this nature will see you able to successfully hold the said employer vicariously liable.

An Attorney Will Typically Want to Hold an Employer's Business Liable

This is a principle known as the "deeper pockets" angle and it's not hard to see why personal injury cases will see the attorney representing a victim try to use it. It's typically accepted that suing a corporate entity successfully will lead to a better outcome than suing a person, which is why respondeat superior liability will be sought where applicable.

Remember that businesses and individuals submit to different legal requirements. One of these will see businesses have much more comprehensive insurance policies than their workers, which means greater coverage and compensation for accident victims.

As the name of the principle implies, lawyers are simply going after whoever has the "deepest pockets" in the equation.

The Effect When Respondeat Superior Applies to Your Case

Typical tort cases allow you to go after the tortfeasor, who is simply the person who hurt you. Wherever you see respondeat superior apply, there is another option since the employee is considered to be acting as an agent of the employer. As indicated before, this option can yield a greater sum for your claim.

What Do You Need to Prove Under the Doctrine of Respondeat Superior?

For this vicarious liability principle to apply, there are very specific requirements that will need to be met:

  1. At the time of the incident, the defendant must have been acting on behalf of the employer

  2. The defendant must have been acting within the scope of established duties and for the benefit of the employer whenever the negligent act occurred.

Therefore, you will find that two primary tests will be used to determine the extent to which these principles apply.

The Characteristics Test

The idea here is to establish if the tortfeasor's actions align with commonly expected elements of the job. For example, if a delivery driver hurt someone during the course of a delivery, then liability would be present since driving to the destination during a delivery is an expected part of the job.

However, if the truck driver was on a break and went to see a spouse about his son, then this is not a part of the job and would call liability into question.

The Benefits Test

Here, the question surrounds the extent to which whatever the employee was doing benefits the employer. So if an employee is working after hours with express consent to meet business deliverables, then this would be beneficial.

However, if the employee is on the premises to attend a staff party, then this would not be something that is a benefit to the company, meaning vicarious liability would not necessarily apply in such a context.

What About Independent Contractors?

What About Independent Contractors?

Respondeat superior is a principle that applies to a relationship between an employer and an employee. Therefore, you will find that employers will sometimes use the independent contractor route to try to avoid liability since they are not technically employees.

While this will sometimes work, it's not foolproof. Courts look at a series of factors and an injury attorney in Dallas will know these and be able to identify exceptions that work in the best interest of the client.

Retain the Services of a Passionate Dallas Personal Injury Attorney Today!

Getting compensation under the respondeat superior doctrine can be incredibly beneficial to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other damages that you may have suffered from an employee who was on duty when an accident occurred.

Start by scheduling a free consultation with a master Dallas personal injury attorney today. To do so, call Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys!


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