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Vicarious liability and wrongful death

Whether we want to think about it or not, the threat of injury from another person's negligence is always present. When we drive, work, and seek out medical treatment, there is always the chance that negligence can occur. Sometimes negligent acts result in death. For the victims' surviving family members, this can be heartbreaking, enraging and financially devastating. One way to seek justice and recover compensation is to file a wrongful death lawsuit. But what happens if the person sued cannot fully cover the damages they caused?

If the negligent individual was working at the time of the accident, then vicarious liability may apply. Vicarious liability allows victims to sue the employers of those who harmed them, so long as certain factors exist. For example, if a doctor is performing his or her professional duties and makes a mistake that kills a patient, and that act breached the applicable standard of care, the victim's family members may be able to sue the doctor and the hospital.

In order for vicarious liability to apply, the negligent actor must be operating within the course of his or her employment. In the hospital context, for example, an employer may not be held liable if a doctor caused a wrongful death outside of his or her working hours. Likewise, an employer may not be held liable for a fatal accident caused while an employee is driving to or from work.

Vicarious liability can be a powerful tool for surviving families, allowing them the ability to reach deeper pockets to satisfy their damages. However, employers often aggressively defend against vicarious liability claims, which means plaintiffs need to be prepared to bring the fight to them. To learn more about how to protect their rights, those who have lost a loved one due to negligence can discuss the matter with an attorney of their choosing.

Source: FindLaw, "Vicarious Liability," accessed on June 4, 2016

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