Vicarious Liability and Negligent Entrustment

An employer can be held liable for car accidents caused by employee during the course of the employment.

The principle of vicarious liability held an employer (formerly a master) liable for the negligence of his employee (formerly servant) even though he had neither authorized his employees’ torts nor specifically prohibited them. An 1852 U.S. Supreme Court case indicated that vicarious liability did not depend on any contractual relationship or “chain of command” between the employer and the employee, but simply on whether the employee’s acts were within the scope of his employment. If so, the employer was absolutely liable for his employee’s negligence. The concept of vicarious liability has developed from the principle of negligence. An existing relationship can give rise to a specific duty that would hold one person responsible for the acts of another. The employer has an obligation to ensure that his or her employees do not injure other and is considered as responsible for the conduct of his or her employees.

A number of motor accident cases involve what is sometimes called ‘negligent entrustment’. When the defendant entrusts X with a motor vehicle under circumstances when a reasonable person would have refrained from doing so, the defendant can be liable for injuries X causes by reason of having been provided with the vehicle. The tort of negligent entrust usually stems from an individual being injured from the inappropriate use of an instrumentality such as a vehicle. In an accident claim based on negligent entrustment, the claimant must prove three things:

  1. One person made his or her vehicle available to another.
  2. The person making available knew or should have known the latter would probably use the vehicle in a way that could cause physical harm to others and;
  3. The person making the vehicle available should expect that there is the possibility of endangerment with its use. 

Another instance of remote liability arises in the case of product liability claims. In accident claims based on product liability, the manufacturer of the defective part that failed to function thereby causing the accident can be held liable for the injuries. Similarly the government agency responsible for maintaining the road will be held liable if the road conditions contributed to the accident.

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