What is Vicarious Liability and Why is it Important in Car Wreck Claims?
Frequently, personal injury attorneys connect car wreck victims with doctors who charge nothing upfront for their services. However, these bills must be paid eventually. And, many tortfeasors (negligent drivers) do not have enough insurance coverage to pay them in full, especially in catastrophic injury cases. That’s because Florida has one of the highest percentages of uninsured drivers in the country.
Fortunately, victims are usually not left holding the financial bag in cases like these. Florida also has extremely broad vicarious liability laws. So, in many cases, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is not the only party responsible for damages. Third party liability gives victims an additional source of recovery in catastrophic injury cases.
The respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) rule usually applies in taxi driver, Uber driver, truck driver, and other commercial operator cases. The company is legally responsible for damages if:
- Employee: Many of the aforementioned commercial operators are technically independent contractors or owner operators. Yet these individuals are employees for negligence purposes. That’s because the employers control these individuals in terms of things like route travelled or hours worked.
- Scope of Employment: Once upon a time, this element was limited to situations like regular delivery drivers on their regular routes. But now, the scope of employment rule is much broader. Generally, any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That definition includes practically anything.
- Foreseeable: Finally, a car crash must be a foreseeable event. In this context, “foreseeable” does not mean inevitable or even likely. Instead, it basically means “within the realm of possibility.”
In Florida, most commercial operators are common carriers. These individuals have a higher duty of care than noncommercial drivers. So, it is a bit easier to prove driver negligence. As a result, it is also easier to prove employer liability.
Alcohol Provider Liability
Many states have limited or eliminated their dram shop laws in recent years. These laws hold commercial alcohol providers vicariously liable for alcohol-related car crash damages. But in Florida, bars, restaurants, and other commercial providers are still vicariously liable for damages if they sell alcohol to an underage person or patron who is habitually addicted to alcohol and that person subsequently causes a car crash.
The foreseeability rule also applies in these cases. Foreseeability is difficult, but not impossible, to prove in packaged alcohol cases. Generally, it’s foreseeable that a person will open a can of beer and drink it on the way home.
For various reasons, vehicle owners often loan their cars or trucks to friends or family members. If these drivers cause car crashes, the owners might be responsible for damages if they knew the driver was incompetent. Evidence of incompetency includes:
- No Valid License: If the tortfeasor had a safety-suspended license or no license at all, the owner might be responsible for damages as a matter of law. Such individuals are usually incompetent no matter how much driving experience they had.
- Driving in Violation of a Restriction: These individuals are usually incompetent if the license restriction was related ot the crash (e.g. the tortfeasor was not wearing required eyegelasses and claimed she did not see the other car).
- Poor Driving Record: A bad record might be circumstantial evidence of incompetency, provided the owner knew about the poor record. To obtain compensation, the victim probably needs to introduce additional evidence as well.
If the incompetent driver was a family member, owner liability is easier to prove, because of the family purpose doctrine.
Connect with an Aggressive Lawyer
Vicarious liability could be the difference between fair compensation and settling for less. For a free consultation with an experienced Port St. Lucie personal injury lawyer, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in injury cases.