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What is vicarious liability, and how could it affect me?

It isn’t necessarily commonly known, but vicarious liability is a significant legal consideration that you need to make for your business. We explain what it is – and what you need to do to avoid a claim being made against you.

11 April 2019

It isn’t necessarily commonly known, but vicarious liability is a significant legal consideration that you need to make for your business. The law details the extra responsibilities that an employer has for their employees’ actions.

What is vicarious liability?

Vicarious liability is a legal term that attributes responsibility to an employer in the event of an accident. An employer can be held responsible for the employee’s actions or omissions in the course of their employment.

Any task that an employee is conducting directly on behalf of the business is considered within the course of employment. For example, a delivery driver on the road between delivery addresses is performing a task for the business. When the same delivery driver pulls into a supermarket car park to buy a sandwich, they are considered outside the scope of employment. There are however grey areas in the law. The case of Century Insurance Co. V Northern Ireland Road and Transport Board, where an employee threw a match to the ground whilst delivering a tanker of petrol which subsequently caused an explosion, found in favour of vicarious liability because the employee was conducting his task in a negligent way, despite the action itself not being work related.

Should an incident occur, the victim is required to prove that vicarious liability exists in the case, which requires a plaintiff to prove that an employee is acting under the authority of an employer. The victim is able to sue both or either the employee and employer, though a court case is likely to be directed at an employer, because of the relative financial situations.

How to protect yourself

The first step you can take to protect yourself from vicarious liability is to ensure that staff are competent to complete their tasks. Have an up to date version of your health and safety documentation, created by a competent safety advisor and ensure that staff understand the information. Brief employees on their legal duties, and the standards you expect them to work to. Finally, employees should have up-to-date safety training to ensure that they are conducting their tasks as safely as possible.

By being aware of vicarious liability, you can reduce the risk of potential lawsuits as a result of employee actions. As your responsibility as an employer, it is essential that you provide adequate guidelines for an employee to follow within the scope of their employment.

Need some help with health and safety? Think of us an extension to your existing team – we are your dedicated health and safety manager, available at any time. Just give us a call on 01522 533388 or drop us an email.

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