What is Respondeat Superior?

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior a principle (employer) is liable for the torts of its agents (employees).  A principle-agent relationship exists where the employee has agreed to work on behalf of the employer and to be subject to the employer’s control or right to control the physical conduct of the employee.

Respondeat superior is Latin for “let the master answer.”  In the employment context, it might be read more accurately as meaning that “the employer must respond and take responsibility.”

The legal doctrine of respondeat superior makes an employer responsible for the actions of an employee, except where the employee’s actions occur outside the course and scope of employment. This makes it important to understand what it means to be “within the course and scope of employment.”

Whether an action is within the course and scope of employment largely depends on the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the action.  For example, if an employee is running an errand for the company in his or her own personal vehicle, and is responsible for an accident, his or her employer is generally liable. At least one point of settled law is that, generally, if the employee is just commuting to or from work, and the same type of accident occurs, the employer is probably not responsible.

As a business owner, it would be in your best interest to make sure your insurance covers such situations. If a situation arises where someone is trying to hold your business liable because of the actions of an employee, consult with an experienced attorney.

Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. We have successfully prosecuted and defended various types of business and property claims. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with your business law concerns.

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