What is Vicarious Liability and Why Does It Matter?

On Behalf of | Jan 28, 2021 | Car Accidents, Injuries

Many Kentucky drivers are either uninsured or underinsured. The Bluegrass State has one of the highest percentages of uninsured drivers in the country. Furthermore, Kentucky has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. And, most people only buy the minimum amount of coverage.

So, there is a good chance that an individual tortfeasor (negligent driver) might not have enough insurance to provide fair compensation in a catastrophic injury claim. Third-party liability, or vicarious liability, holds third parties responsible for certain car crashes. So, these victims still have legal options.

Vicarious liability claims are also quite complex. Only the most experienced Lexington personal injury attorneys should handle them. These actions are really two claims in one. First, an attorney must prove that the driver was legally responsible for the wreck. Then, an attorney must show that a third party liability rule applies.

Owner Liability

The negligent entrustment rule usually applies if owners knowingly allow incompetent operators to drive their vehicles. Evidence on this point includes:

  • No Valid Drivers’ License: Drivers with learners’ permits, safety-suspended drivers’ license, or no license are usually incompetent as a matter of law. It does not matter how much driving experience they have. It also does not matter if they are just going to the store abdn back.
  • Driving in Violation of a Restriction: The same rule usually applies to operators who drive without required eyeglasses or drive at night when they are not legally permitted to do so. Victim/plaintiffs must prove the owner actually knew about the restriction.
  • Bad Driving Record: Operators could be incompetent if they had an at-fault accident in the last few months. The same thing could be true if they recently came off a safety suspension. A generally poor driving record, by itself, is probably not evidence of incompetency.

Kentucky is a family purpose doctrine state. Therefore, the negligent entrustment rule almost always applies if a teen drives an adult’s vehicle. 

This rule is slightly harder to prove in other noncommercial transactions, such as a roommate loaning a roommate a vehicle. Furthermore, commercial negligent entrustment cases require additional evidence, because of the Graves Amendment.

Employer Liability

Owners can prevent crashes if they are careful about who drives their cars. Likewise, employers can prevent crashes if they screen and control their drivers. Therefore, if a truck driver, rideshare driver, bus driver, or other commercial operator causes a crash, the respondeat superior doctrine usually applies. This doctrine has three basic prongs:

  • Employee: Many of the aforementioned drivers, such as rideshare drivers, are independent contractors or other non-employees for tax purposes. But for negligence purposes, these individuals are employees. That’s because the companies control the drivers, at least to an extent.
  • Scope of Employment: Once upon a time, Kentucky law limited this respondeat superior prong to activities like regular delivery drivers making their regular deliveries. Today, any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. Deadheading, or ridesharing operators driving without passengers, is within the scope of employment. The employer benefits by having drivers on hand.
  • Foreseeability: A car crash must be a foreseeable result of the employer/employee relationship. About the only non-foreseeable instance is an employee who breaks into the garage and steals a vehicle.

Speaking of rideshare operators, their personal auto insurance policies usually do not cover commercial losses. So, respondeat superior is often critical in these situations.

Other employer liability theories, which often apply in assault and other intentional tort claims, include negligent hiring and negligent supervision.

Alcohol Provider Liability

Bars, restaurants, and other commercial establishments that sell alcohol are also in a good position to prevent crashes. But these businesses often hesitate to end sales, even if the customers are clearly a danger to themselves or others. 

Kentucky’s dram shop law incentivizes these businesses to more responsibly handle alcohol sales. The dram shop law holds these establishments financially responsible for car crash damages if they sell alcohol to visibly intoxicated people. Evidence on this point includes:

  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Amount of alcohol consumed at that location,
  • Unsteady balance, and
  • Statements the customer makes.

Kentucky’s dram shop law only applies to commercial sales. Party hosts and other providers might also be vicariously liable for damages, under a theory like negligent undertaking.

The negligent driver is not always the only party responsible for car crash damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Virtual, home, and hospital visits are available.