Employer Liability for Injuries: A Look at Vicarious Liability

February 28, 2018

In Pennsylvania, employers may be held liable for the injuries — and subsequent damages and other losses — inflicted by their employees, though only under specific circumstances.  This is a long-established legal principle known as respondeat superior, or more commonly in modern parlance: vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability is an extremely pro-plaintiff principle that entails the attachment of liability to an employer, even when the employer did not actually encourage or otherwise play a role in the negligent conduct perpetrated by their employee.  Why?  The purpose of vicarious liability is to force employers (who have the resources to effectuate change) to take a proactive approach to safety.  By shifting the burden of liability to employers, the State is essentially forcing employers to invest in proper training programs for their employees, to hire managers to properly supervise their employees, and to discourage “bad behavior” overall.

It’s also worth noting that the injured plaintiff has a higher chance of recovering fully from an employer-defendant.  Employers are more likely to have adequate insurance coverage and/or the financial assets necessary to cover the damages at-issue in the case.

Vicarious liability is an excellent tool for injured plaintiffs in Pennsylvania, but it’s not always available.  Further, employers will fight tooth-and-nail to distance themselves from the situation at-hand and avoid the application of vicarious liability.  As such, it’s important that you consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can effectively navigate the roadblocks put up by defendants in such lawsuits.

Basics of Vicarious Liability in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, vicarious liability will apply if the plaintiff can show that the damages they suffered were caused by an employee who was acting within the course and scope of their employment.  Understanding the “course and scope” of employment is therefore the fundamental and critical element that determines the application of vicarious liability in a particular case.

Course and scope of employment can be a challenging concept to pin down.  Generally speaking, an employee’s conduct fits within the course and scope of employment if it is the sort of conduct that they were employed to perform, or if it is conducted with a purpose to serve the employer’s interests.  Stated comprehensively, almost any conduct that has been expressly or implicitly authorized by the employer will qualify as within the course and scope of employment, for the purpose of vicarious liability.

For example, if a restaurant employee is asked by the owner to take their car and pickup monthly supplies from a nearby supplier, then — even if such services are not part of their normal job duties — a subsequent motor vehicle accident caused by the employee would likely also attach liability to the employer (they authorized the conduct).

Exceptions to Vicarious Liability

In many states, vicarious liability does not extend to the intentional or criminal conduct of the employee.  In Pennsylvania, however, vicarious liability may attach to the employer even where the employee has acted with intention, so long as the intentional act was in furtherance of the employer’s interest, and the employer could have reasonably foreseen the conduct of their employee.  For example, if a retail store employer knows that a security-guard employee has violent tendencies, then it is reasonably foreseeable that the employee will intentionally attack a customer that represents a perceived threat to the store (i.e., a potential shoplifter).  The employer may therefore be held liable in such circumstances, despite the fact that the employee acted intentionally, and not negligently.

Contact a Bethlehem Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Here at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC, our attorneys have represented injured claimants in a range of litigation in Pennsylvania for over thirty years.  We are committed to personalized legal advocacy, and to that end, we work closely with clients from the beginning of the litigation process to develop and execute a strategy that is closely aligned with their interests.  Our approach has served as well over the years, earning our firm substantial results (both verdicts and settlements) and numerous accolades from nationally-recognized publications.

Call (888) 777-7098 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Bethlehem personal injury lawyer here at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC today.