What does "respondeat superior" mean?

You might think that your car accident injuries were the fault of the semitruck driver who blew through a red light and t-boned the compact car you were driving. Indeed, it probably was his fault, but another liable party was probably involved in this crash: the employer of the semitruck driver.

When an employee causes an injurious accident while performing job duties, he or she was acting under the course and scope of one's employment. As such, by virtue of the legal doctrine "respondeat superior" the employer may also be liable for financial damages.

Respondeat superior is an ancient legal concept. In Latin, it means "let the master answer." It harks back to ancient Roman times, when the masters of servants and slaves would send their agents out to do their bidding. If the agent, under control of his or her master, did something untoward, then the master would have to answer to the crimes.

The key part of any respondeat superior claim are the words "in the course and scope of employment." If an employee commits negligence - even if it was the employee's own fault - if that employee was carrying out his or her job responsibilities, then the company will likely be a liable party in any legal claims that derive from that negligence.

Conversely, let's say that an employee is "on the job," but he goes into a convenience store to buy a soft drink, gets into a fight with a customer in the store and injures the customer. In this case, it's highly unlikely that the employer would be liable since the action did not happen while the employee was performing his job duties.

The importance of considering all potential defendants

When an Ohio resident suffers an injury due to another person's negligence it's vital to contemplate all potentially liable parties. In a semitruck accident, for example, one might find that an unlawful or negligent truck driver was to blame for the crash, but (1) the driver was working for his employer at the time, and (2) there were problems with the condition of the roadway that made the accident worse.

As such, the truck driver's employer - via the doctrine of respondeat superior - and the city - due to its failure to maintain the roadway - may also be liable parties in claims that arise from the crash.

To be certain you have considered all liable parties in your car accident, be sure to discuss the details of your potential personal injury lawsuit with a qualified attorney.

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