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What Is Vicarious Liability & How Does It Apply To My Truck Accident Case?


Accidents between Florida drivers and large trucks are depressingly common, though according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nationwide rates of truck accident fatalities have actually decreased in recent years. If you are so unfortunate as to experience an accident with a large truck, you may hear of a legal concept called vicarious liability. Depending on the specific nature of your accident case, you may be able to use this legal theory to your advantage.

Holding An Employer Accountable

Vicarious liability very often goes hand in hand with a similar doctrine called respondeat superior. Both theories attempt to hold the ‘superior’ in a relationship liable for tortious or otherwise actionable behavior on the part of their subordinate. The most common way both of these are applied is in employer-employee relationships, though in theory, respondeat superior in particular can be applied to any relationship between a ‘superior’ and a ‘subordinate.’ However, vicarious liability deals with the truck as ‘dangerous instrumentality,’ where respondeat superior deals more with potentially negligent hiring.

For example, if the driver of a large truck drives while distracted and injures someone, both the driver and the employer may conceivably be held liable, at least in theory. Vicarious liability holds, as a theory, that if a ‘dangerous instrumentality’ like a large truck is operated negligently, both the operator and their superior are liable for any injuries. Respondeat superior, by comparison, tries to hold an employer liable for torts (the civil equivalent of crimes, which carry no jail time) committed by their employees under a theory that the tort would not have happened if the employer had been more diligent in their hiring.

Three Criteria To Establish

The majority of truck accident cases are brought under a theory of vicarious liability alone, simply out of expediency, but either theory may still be good law in Florida. Regardless, there are three main criteria that an injured plaintiff needs to establish in order to have a bona fide vicarious liability claim. It must be shown that the truck driver was:

  • An employee of the employer’s – though it is crucial to be aware that even independent contractors and unpaid volunteers may count as ‘employees’ for negligence purposes;
  • Acting within the scope of their employment. This is a very broad term, but in general, anything that is not a demonstrable deviation from their work may fall under that scope; and
  • That the accident was foreseeable by the average person. Most of the time, accidents are considered foreseeable simply because any vehicle on the road may experience one.

Keep in mind that in many situations, federal law governing the trucking industry may preempt Florida regulations. For example, federal law states that motor carriers must assume “full responsibility” for the negligence of “lessor-drivers” of leased equipment. While this does not apply to every large truck on the road, it does apply to many of them, and it means that a potentially higher jury award may be in the cards for an injured plaintiff.

Contact A Tampa Trucking Accident Attorney

Employers have an obligation to do their due diligence in hiring their employees, and in maintaining the tools their workers need to do their jobs. Vicarious liability can help to ensure that failing in that duty will not go unremarked upon. If you have been involved in a truck crash, a Tampa truck accident attorney from the Rinaldo Law Group may be able to help you decide where to take your case from here. Call our offices today for a free consultation.



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