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

Let’s begin with a hypothetical. You have been injured in a car crash that was, according to several eyewitnesses and you, caused by a driver on a delivery for an automotive parts store. While you were waiting at a red light, the delivery driver rear ended you. According to the police investigation, the driver was distracted by his phone and lost it.

Further investigation revealed that the driver only has the minimum liability insurance required by the state. It won’t cover you for your injuries or lost earnings. After discussing the matter with a lawyer for car accidents, he advised that you sue both the driver and the driver individually. This type of action seeks to hold the employer liable for the employee’s conduct.

What does “Respondeat Superior” mean?

Latin for “Respondeat superior”, “let the master answer” means “respondeat superior”. To prevail in a personal injury case involving a car accident or other mishap, you will need to prove that the employee acted within the scope of his or her job and that he or she was engaging in conduct in the interest of the employer (along with proving negligence).

Did the employee “on the clock”?

The employer is not liable for employee’s wrongdoing if she was not on the clock at the time of the accident or her conduct was not within the scope of her job duties. These examples will help you understand the rule.

Let’s start with the above-mentioned case of the company driver who causes an accident during a work shift. He was performing the duties for the employer’s profit. These circumstances make it almost certain that the employer is liable for the negligence of the employee. A claim against the employer based on “respondeat superior”, will likely succeed.

Let’s take, for example, the case of a shop security guard who, while investigating an alleged theft incident, assaults a patron unprovokedly. It is not possible to argue that the attack was within the security guard’s job duties or responsibilities. In this case, the injured patron of the store will not be able to pursue an injury claim against it, at least one that is based on “respondeat superior.” (The viability or inability to bring a claim against the guard is another matter. Learn more about civil assault claims.

Let’s take, for example, the case of a worker at a grocery store who accidentally knocks a glass container off a shelf while she is out shopping. Broken glass strikes another shopper and causes injury. Although the employee is expected to stock and maintain inventory as part of her job duties, the fact that she was not on the clock at the time of the incident does not mean that the store cannot be held responsible for the injuries sustained by the other shopper. Other theories of liability, such as premises liability, could apply.

The Angle of “Deep Pockets”

What makes “respondeat superior” in personal injury cases? Personal injury claimants will prefer to sue corporations over individuals in most cases. Larger businesses usually have greater liability insurance coverage. Personal injury lawyers often pursue the defendant with the largest pockets.

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