Respondeat superior – let the employer answer
We try to refrain from using legalese on this site, because let’s face it – legalese is terrible. However, from time to time it’s unavoidable. That is why we occasionally slip into Latin.
The phrase “respondeat superior” pops up on this site every now and again. We thought we’d do a short post on this phrase and why it is important in a legal case.
“Respondeat superior” literally means “let the master answer.”
It’s also known as the “master-servant rule.” It is a form of vicarious liability in that one person or entity is responsible for another’s conduct or lack of conduct. This is also called “agency.” In such a situation, the principal is called upon to answer for the agent’s negligent actions or omissions.
This applies most often in employer-employee relationships. If the employer has the right to control the actions of the employee, then he or she will also be responsible for the negligence of the employee during the scope of his employment. So, he wouldn’t be responsible for actions taken outside of office hours.
This can get very hairy during litigation. Consider this example:
For instance, say an employee was running errands for his employer, but decided to stop and get coffee. He wasn’t authorized to do so, and during that time he got into a car accident. His employer would argue that the employee wasn’t on the clock, and as such the employer would not be responsible for the employee’s negligence.
Attorneys will forever argue the minutiae of whether an employee was actually an employee for the purpose of determining whether there was an employer-employee relationship for the five minutes during the accident.
Keep in mind, however, an employer would not be liable for intentionally wrongful or criminal acts like assault or battery unless the employer somehow required them or they were foreseeable (like a criminal enterprise). The court must ask whether the employee’s actions were in furtherance of the employer’s interests.
So, to boil it down, the injured party must prove the following to establish “respondeat superior”:
- An injury occurred while the employee was working for the employer;
- The injury was caused by something the employee would normally do while working for the employer; and
- The employer was benefited in some way by the employee’s actions.
The more you know!