What Is Vicarious Liability and Why Should You Care?

Vicarious liability is also called third-party liability. Many times, an employer or another party negligently sets a chain of events into motion which leads to a car crash. The law holds these parties equally liable for damages, just like the guy who drives the getaway car is just as guilty as the guy who robs a bank.

Third-party liability matters because one in six New York drivers are completely uninsured. Additionally, the Empire State has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. As a result, many other drivers are underinsured. So, the tortfeasor may not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation, especially in catastrophic injury cases.

This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.


What Liability does the Employer Have?

The respondeat superior rule often comes up if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was an Uber driver, taxi driver, truck driver, or another commercial operator. Employers are legally responsible for car crash damages if:

  • Employee: In this context, employees are not just people who work regular hours and receive regular paychecks; employees are any people whom the employer controls. This list includes not only statutory employees but also independent contractors, owner-operators, and even unpaid volunteers.
  • Scope of Employment: This term is defined very broadly as well. Any activity which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. For example, an Uber driver with a passenger in the back seat is clearly acting within the scope of employment. The same conclusion applies if the operator is on the way to pick up a passenger. That activity benefits the employer because there is the potential for money and Uber benefits from free advertising.

Other employer liability theories, which are often applied in assault and other intentional tort cases, include negligent hiring and negligent supervision.


What Liability does the Owner Have?

Sometimes, owners allow unqualified drivers to use their vehicles. If that happens, and the driver causes a crash, the vehicle owner may be vicariously liable for damages. After all, the tortfeasor would not have been on the road if the owner had not given him or her the keys. Evidence of incompetency can include:

  • Driving without a valid license, no matter how much driving experience the tortfeasor has,
  • Operating a vehicle while violating a drivers’ license restriction, such as no nighttime or freeway driving, and
  • A bad driving record which includes a number of at-fault collisions or a number of “near misses.”

Generally, victims/plaintiffs must also establish knowledge. If the owner did not know the tortfeasor was incompetent, the negligent entrustment rule may not apply.

Commercial negligent entrustment cases work a bit differently, due to the Graves Amendment. In U-Haul truck and other cases, victim/plaintiffs may need to offer additional evidence to establish owner liability.


What is the Liability of Alcohol Providers?

Finally, New York has a dram shop law. This law holds grocery stores, bars, and other providers of alcohol liable for damages if a car crash is caused by an intoxicated patron of the business.

There is a difference between “intoxication” and “impairment.” Most people must consume at least two or three drinks to become intoxicated. But impairment always begins with the first drink.

Furthermore, the dram shop law has limited applicability. Liability only attaches if the commercial provider distributed alcohol to:

  • A minor, or
  • An “obviously intoxicated” person.

Evidence of intoxication includes things like consumption history, bloodshot eyes, unsteady balance, and a strong odor of alcohol.

Party hosts and other noncommercial alcohol providers may be vicariously liable for damages as well.


Contact an NYC Attorney

The tortfeasor may not be the only party that is responsible for damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in New York, contact Michael J. Redenburg Esq. P.C. We routinely handle matters in Kings County and nearby jurisdictions.