What is Vicarious Liability and Why Does it Matter?
Vicarious liability, or third-party liability, holds individuals and/or organizations responsible for car crash damages, even though someone else was actually behind the wheel. Vicarious liability matters because Florida has the highest percentage of uninsured drivers in the country. Most people are judgement-proof. So, if an uninsured driver hits a victim, that victim needs an alternate source of recovery.
That recovery amount usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. In addition to obtaining compensation, a Port St. Lucie personal injury attorney also takes care of immediate needs, like medical bills and vehicle repair or replacement.
Uber drivers, truck drivers, and other commercial operators cause a number of car wrecks in the Sunshine State. Personal insurance policies almost never cover commercial-related losses. So, the respondeat superior rule is an important item in a personal injury lawyer’s toolbox.
This legal doctrine holds employers responsible for the negligence of their drivers under the following conditions:
- Employee: Many of the aforementioned commercial operators are technically independent contractors or owner-operators. That designation might suffice for tax purposes, but for negligence purposes, these individuals are employees. A small degree of employer control is all that’s required.
- Scope of Employment: Florida law also defines this respondeat superior prong in broad, victim-friendly terms. Typically, any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That benefit could be small or large, economic or noneconomic.
Other employer liability theories, which often apply in assault and other intentional tort claims, include negligent hiring and negligent supervision. Negligent hiring is retaining an employee who is legally incompetent. Negligent supervision is a failure to adequately direct the employee’s work or discipline the employee if things go sideways.
Somewhat similar to negligent hiring, property owners are liable for negligence damages if they knowingly allow incompetent drivers to operate their motor vehicles. This rule is called negligent entrustment. Evidence of incompetency includes:
- No drivers’ license,
- Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
- Violating drivers’ license restrictions, such as driving without required eyeglasses,
- Prior safety suspensions, and
- A bad driving record.
Drivers without licenses are usually incompetent as a matter of law. The other evidence is circumstantial. Victim/plaintiffs must prove incompetency and knowledge by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was a member of the owner’s family, negligent entrustment is a bit easier to establish in Florida. The Sunshine State recognizes the family purpose doctrine.
Alcohol Provider Liability
In recent years, many states have watered down their dram shop laws or done away with them altogether. These laws hold bars, restaurants, and other commercial alcohol providers vicariously liable for damages if their patrons cause car crashes.
However, Florida’s dram shop law is still alive and well. It applies if either of the following facts are present:
- Minor Patron: If the customer was under 21, liability usually attaches as a matter of law. Most defenses, even presenting a fake ID, do not hold up in court.
- Habitually Addicted Patron: Evidence of habitual addiction to alcohol includes statements the tortfeasor made at the time and prior purchases at that location. Once again, victim/plaintiffs must establish both addiction and the shop’s knowledge of addiction by a preponderance of the evidence.
Party hosts might also be liable for alcohol-related car crash damages, under a theory like negligent undertaking.
Count on a Dedicated Lawyer
The tortfeasor might not be the only party responsible for car crash damages. For a free consultation with an experienced Port St. Lucie personal injury attorney, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.