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What does “respondeat superior” mean for a car accident case?

On Behalf of | Feb 9, 2022 | Car Accidents |

The car wreck happened so fast you barely remember it. The other driver – who was running some errands for their boss at the time and distracted by their phone – was clearly at fault. 

If the other driver caused your injuries, why should their boss have to pay? That’s where the legal concept of “respondeat superior” comes into play. 

The burden of your losses should land on the party best able to bear them 

Respondeat superior” is Latin for “let the master answer.” It’s a very old legal concept that says that employers can, under the right circumstances, be held vicariously liable for the mistakes of their employees. 

This is important to your case because your injuries and losses may include damages that well exceed the standard insurance carried by the driver who hit you. The insurance policy held by their employer, however, is probably much bigger. In essence, the law aims to put the financial burden for your losses on the party best able to cover them – and that isn’t you or the other driver. 

Vicarious liability doesn’t apply to every situation with every employee 

You can only hold an employer liable for a car wreck caused by an employee when their employer was acting in the course of their regular employment or with their employer’s authorization. If they were on their own time, taking an unapproved detour or merely frolicking about in a company car, then their employer may not be responsible. 

For example, if the driver who hit you was picking up the boss’s lunch and laundry, that may not strictly be part of their job, but it certainly was done with their employer’s authorization and direction, so the employer would likely be liable for the wreck. On the other hand, if the employee was supposed to be on a service call but decided to take a detour to pick up coffee and their own dry cleaning, their employer probably couldn’t be held responsible. 

Because cases like these are complicated, it’s always wisest to have an experienced eye take a good look at your car accident case. That can help you avoid leaving money on the table that you deserve for your losses.