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What is 'vicarious liability' in Texas vehicle accidents?


Imagine that a Houston resident is traveling home from work, perhaps using the interstate to get from downtown to the suburbs where they live. As they approach their exit, thinking about what's for dinner, they notice an 18-wheeler begin to drift into their lane. Hemmed in by other cars, there is no place they can go, and the big rig hits their car, causing an accident. Hopefully, they are not seriously injured, but that is always a possibility when a large truck collides with a smaller vehicle. There is a very real chance that the victim may end up in court to try to recoup some compensation for the medical bills, missed work, and pain they have suffered.

Let's suppose, further, that the truck driver is young. They have been driving for a couple of years, but not a long time. They live with their parents as they are still trying to get together enough money to live independently. They don't own any assets; even the truck they are driving is leased. They have personal auto insurance, but the policy limit doesn't come close to covering half of the damages that were caused by the accident. Is our unlucky injured driver out of luck?

Maybe. However, when we are dealing with commercial vehicle accidents, there may be some better options for a Houston resident in a situation similar to the above to recover their losses. One is the theory of 'vicarious liability,' or, in this case, more specifically, respondeat superior. This concept allows parties injured by the negligence of someone acting in the course of their job duties to attempt to hold the employer responsible for any negligence that occurred.

Of course, this is not automatic. The plaintiff in these cases needs to be able to show that the person responsible was an employee and was acting in the scope of their employment. One defense often used in these cases by trucking companies or other commercial enterprises is that the negligent individual was an 'independent contractor' rather than an employee. However, just because the company may say the person is a contractor doesn't mean they aren't legally an employee. To determine this, Texas and other state courts often look at what the employee's specific duties were and the relationship they had with the parent company. As this can be very complex, those in such a situation may wish to consider speaking with an attorney.

Source: FindLaw. "Vicarious Liability," accessed October 15, 2017

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