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What is “Respondeat Superior” in a Personal Injury Case?

June 8, 2021Personal Injury

If an employee’s negligence causes you harm, you sometimes have two options for obtaining compensation. You can file a personal injury lawsuit against the employee for their actions, or under the legal principle called “respondeat superior,” you can sue their employer.

What Does “Respondeat Superior” Mean?

The Latin term “respondeat superior” means “let the master answer.” This centuries-old common-law doctrine implies the responsibility of superiors for the actions of their employees, subordinates, agents, etc., when done during an assigned duty. In other words, to hold an employer liable for an employee’s negligence, you must prove the employee was acting within the scope of their employment when they caused your injury. For example, if an employee causes a car accident while making a work delivery, the driver’s employer may be responsible. Whereas, if the employee causes a collision while running a personal errand on their lunch break, the employer will most likely not be liable.

Why is “Respondeat Superior” Important to My Personal Injury Case?

It is extremely common for damages from a personal injury accident to exceed an individual’s policy limits. Particularly if they only have minimum liability coverage or no insurance coverage at all. However, an employer’s insurance coverage limits will typically be much more significant. This means you may be able to recover a more considerable amount of compensation that fully covers your losses.

What If the Employee is an Independent Contractor?

Companies typically assume they will not be held liable for personal injury claims arising from work performed by independent contractors they hire. However, as the law evolves, this is less and less true. If you are injured by an employee considered an independent contractor, their company may still be responsible for your damages under the “respondeat superior” doctrine. For example, Uber can be held liable if one of their drivers causes an accident while transporting passengers, even though their drivers are considered independent contractors.

How To Know if Someone is Acting Within the Scope of Their Employment

There are many gray areas regarding whether an employee was acting within the scope of their employment in a personal injury case. A variety of factors will be considered, for instance:

  • How the accident occurred;
  • Whether the accident was foreseeable;
  • Whether the employee was completing a personal task or one for the company;
  • Whether the employee’s actions were intentional or negligent; or,
  • If a crime was committed.

Because this matter can quickly become complicated and it is highly unusual for an employer to accept responsibility right off the bat, it is in your best interests to hire a St. Louis personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer will have a thorough understanding of the applicable laws and what it takes to hold an employer accountable under the “respondeat superior” doctrine.

We Can Help

If a careless employee has injured you or someone you love, we can help you hold their employer liable for your losses. Contact Goldblatt + Singer today for your free consultation.

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