What is vicarious liability?

Vicarious is defined by the dictionary as “something performed, exercised, received, or suffered in place of another”.

The term describes a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions of another person.

In the workplace, an employer may be held vicariously liable for the actions or omissions of his employees - if those deeds resulted in an accident and injuries to another employee or member of the public. However the actions or omissions must be shown to have taken place during the course of the employees’ work.

If an employer is found vicariously liable for the injuries caused by one employee to another person it means that the employer, not the employee, will be liable for any compensation awarded to the claimant as a result of the injuries sustained.

In what situations might an employer be vicariously liable?

If, for example, a line manager restarts a conveyor belt that an employee is repairing, and the employee sustains a serious arm injury, the company would be vicariously liable for the injuries sustained.

This is likely to be the case even if the manager violated the company's strict health and safety protocols by their actions. The line manager is unlikely to be held personally responsible for the purposes of a compensation claim.

An employer may also be found vicariously liable for any personal injury claims by a member of the public. If, for example,a warehouse worker causes an accident driving a forklift truck whilst carrying out his work duties.

However, if one employee caused an accident, injuring another employee when giving him a lift home in the delivery van outside of working hours, the employer would not likely be vicariously liable for the injuries sustained in the collision.

Why might an employer dispute vicarious liability?

Although companies are required by law to have Employers’ Liability Insurance in place to cover the cost of any compensation paid to claimants as a result of injury in the workplace, the insurance premiums may be increased if the employer has to make a claim.

To avoid these premium increases employers might dispute a claim for vicarious liability.

For example the employer may successfully dispute vicarious liability if the person who caused the accident was an independent contractor and therefore the employer had no control over the contractor’s actions.

However, the court may still find the employer vicariously liable if he had appointed an incompetent contractor, or failed to instruct or properly supervise the contractor. It may be judged that the employer was negligent by his actions or omissions.

If one employee assaulted another in the workplace the employer may dispute his vicarious liability for the injuries sustained on the grounds that the assault was a criminal act by the employee, and clearly outside the employee's course of employment.

There may be an exception to this if an employee - such as the doorman of a pub - is required to sometimes use force as a necessary part of the job. Removing persons from his employer's premises is a part of the bouncer's everyday role, and so if the bouncer injures a member of the public, the employer may be vicariously liable.

Can you claim against a former employer?

Providing the actions took place during your period of employment you may still bring a claim against your former employer if a former colleague caused an accident in which you sustained injuries. Your former employer’s vicarious liability does not end once you leave the company.