What Is Vicarious Liability?

The term “vicarious liability” describes a situation in which one party is liable for the financial consequences of a wrongful act committed by another party. The liable party may or may not have committed any wrongdoing themselves. Vicarious liability is common, especially with respect to business activities. Following are some common examples. 

Respondeat Superior 

Respondeat superior is an obscure Latin term that literally means, “Let the master answer.” In plain English, it means that an employer is liable for the acts of their employee, at least while the employee is acting within the scope of their duties. 

In many cases, the employer was also at fault-–for hiring an incompetent or dishonest employee, for example. In other situations, the employer is liable even if they committed no wrongdoing. 

Independent Contractors

An independent contractor is someone who performs services for another party but who is not an employee. An example is a plumber who comes to fix your sink. Since the plumber is an independent contractor, you are not liable for their wrongdoing unless you committed some sort of misconduct yourself, such as negligent hiring.

What makes a plumber an independent contractor instead of an employee is their independence from you-– for instance, they use their own work tools and may have no set schedule. For example, you typically cannot sue a trucking company for a truck accident unless the trucking company itself committed misconduct because most commercial truck drivers are independent contractors. The same typically applies to doctors working in hospitals.

You cannot decide whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor based on what you call them. Ultimately, a court decides whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee.

Product Liability

Product liability arises when someone suffers an injury to a defective, unreasonably dangerous product. Product liability invokes vicarious liability in two ways. First, the company is liable for the wrongful acts of its employees. 

Second, product liability allows you to sue anyone in the product’s chain of distribution—designer, manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer. Imagine that you sue a retailer for a manufacturing defect in one of the products they sell. Since they are not manufacturers, they could not have caused the product’s manufacturing defect. They are liable, nevertheless.

One of the main purposes of vicarious product liability law is to provide compensation for the victim of a manufacturing defect even after the manufacturer goes out of business. 

Dangerous Instrumentalities

A “dangerous instrumentality” is a tool that can hurt someone. If you loan your car to someone and they get into a car accident, for example, you might bear liability under the “dangerous instrumentalities” doctrine. This doctrine would not apply if someone stole your car or if the person you loaned your car to exceeded the scope of their permission. 

A “dangerous instrumentality” might also include:

  • Commercial trucks;
  • Blowtorches;
  • Chain saws;
  • Blasting caps;
  • Heavy machinery; and
  • Motorboats.

If you allow someone else to use your dangerous instrumentality, you and the user might be liable.

Parental Liability for the Actions of a Child

Under Florida statutory law and common law, an injury victim can hold parents liable for the actions of their minor child who acted intentionally or maliciously. For example, Florida has specific statutes that hold parents liable for vandalism and car accidents. Courts also hold parents liable for their child’s bullying behavior.

Dram Shop Liability

In Florida, an alcohol vendor, such as a nightclub, can bear liability for serving alcohol to a minor whose intoxication injures another-–such as in a DUI accident. Alcohol vendors can also bear liability for knowingly providing alcohol to a “habitually addicted” person whose intoxication later causes injury. 

Note that this liability is not limited to car accidents—it might include the consequences of a bar fight, for example. Note also that social hosts, grocery stores, and liquor stores do not bear liability under Florida’s dram shop law.


In a business partnership, each partner can bear liability for a personal injury caused by the wrongful behavior of any member of the partnership. Vicarious liability does not extend, however, to limited partners. Likewise, it does not extend to corporations, LLCs, and other limited liability entities.

Civil Conspiracy

Civil conspiracy is the civil counterpart to criminal conspiracy laws. A civil conspiracy arises when two or more people agree to commit an illegal act. Once the conspiracy arises, any member of the conspiracy can bear liability for the consequences of the acts of any of their co-conspirators.

Find a Boca Raton Personal Injury Lawyer

You may or may not be able to handle an ordinary personal injury claim without a lawyer. A lot depends on the size and complexity of the claim. Vicarious liability, however, is a “red flag” that should alert you that you need a lawyer to help you.

Don’t worry whether you can afford a lawyer. Almost all Boca Raton personal injury lawyers will agree to work on a contingency fee, under which you pay nothing unless you win. Contact us today at (561) 347-7770 to schedule a free initial consultation with a top-rated attorney at Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers.