Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability imposes responsibility upon one person for the failure of another.

The word "vicarious" means to take the place of another person or thing; so another party takes legal responsibility for the actions of another.

The plaintiff in a medical malpractice case of vicarious liability case is or was the patient, or a legally designated party who is acting on behalf of the patient, or in the case of a wrongful death suit, the executor or administrator of the deceased patient's estate.

So, vicarious liability is a legal doctrine assigning liability for an injury to a person who did not cause the injury but who has a legal relationship with the person who did. The person who caused the injury is still the negligent party. However, if that negligence occurs within the scope of employment where, for example, the employer owes a duty of care to the injured party -- say, for instance, a doctor working within a hospital environment -- then there may be a case for vicarious liability.

It is upon this explanation that a doctrine called "respondeat superior" is based. It simply means in Latin "let the master answer" or "let the superior answer." However, for the "master" or "superior" to answer to a medical malpractice claim of vicarious liability, it must be shown that the negligent party who caused the injury was in employment or acting on a legal behalf of the other person or agency. To use the example of a doctor once more, the doctor who may have been negligent would not necessarily be the only defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit when vicarious liability is considered. The hospital that retained the doctor on staff may also be liable as a result of their employee/employer relationship. Additionally, it would be considered that the doctor had "staff privileges" at the hospital and, regardless if the hospital were to attempt to downplay its role in directing or supervising the doctor's work, the doctor acted as an agent on their behalf with all the resources they made available to doctors in their employ.

Some other examples of legal relationships where vicarious liability might be assigned are:

  • Doctors and hospitals.
  • Doctors who belong to private practices.
  • Assistants and staff working on behalf of a doctor.
  • Interns and medical students working under an attending physician's guidance.
  • Employers for clinics, managed care organizations, or medical corporations.

If you feel that you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a negligent action where another party might hold vicarious liability for the injury, please allow us at Sweeney Law Firm to review your case. There is never a fee unless a recovery is made for you.