The TORT doctrine that imposes responsibility upon one person for the failure of another, with whom the person has a special relationship (such as PARENT AND CHILD, employer and employee, or owner of vehicle and driver), to exercise such care as a reasonably prudent person would use under similar circumstances.
Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that assigns liability for an injury to a person who did not cause the injury but who has a particular legal relationship to the person who did act negligently. It is also referred to as imputed NEGLIGENCE. Legal relationships that can lead to imputed negligence include the relationship between parent and child, HUSBAND AND WIFE, owner of a vehicle and driver, and employer and employee. Ordinarily the independent negligence of one person is not imputable to another person.
Other theories of liability that are premised on imputed negligence include the RESPONDEAT SUPERIOR doctrine and the family car doctrine.
The doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for "let the master answer") is based on the employer-employee relationship. The doctrine makes the employer responsible for a lack of care on the part of an employee in relation to those to whom the employer owes a duty of care. For respondeat superior to apply, the employee's negligence must occur within the scope of her employment.
The employer is charged with legal responsibility for the negligence of the employee because the employee is held to be an agent of the employer. If a negligent act is committed by an employee acting within the general scope of her or his employment, the employer will be held liable for damages. For example, if the driver of a gasoline delivery truck runs a red light on the way to a gas station and strikes another car, causing injury, the gasoline delivery company will be responsible for the damages if the driver is found to be negligent. Because the company will automatically be found liable if the driver is negligent, respondeat superior is a form of STRICT LIABILITY.
Another common example of imputed negligence is attributing liability to the owner of a car, where the driver of the car committed a negligent act. This type of relationship has been labeled the family car doctrine. The doctrine is based on the assumption that the head of the household provides a car for the family's use and, therefore, the operator of the car acts as an agent of the owner. When, for example, a child drives a car, registered to a parent, for a family purpose, the parent is responsible for the negligent acts of the child at the wheel.
Liability can also be imputed to an owner of a car who lends it to a friend. Again, the driver of the car is acting as the agent of the owner. If the owner is injured by the driver's negligence and sues the driver, the owner can lose the lawsuit because the negligence of the driver can be imputed to the owner, thereby rendering him contributorily negligent. This concept is known as imputed contributory negligence.