Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

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When can an Employer be Held Liable for Employee Negligence?

Posted Friday, May 4, 2018 by Chris Thayer

Are there circumstances in which a third party can be held liable for a negligent actor’s conduct?

There is a legal principle called respondeat superior, or vicarious liability, that sometimes holds an employer responsible for an employee’s negligent conduct. The general rule in Washington is that employers are only liable if the employee was acting within the scope of employment. But there are a few exceptions.

Understanding Respondeat Superior

According to the Washington Supreme Court, there are two elements that personal injury plaintiffs must prove in order to establish that an employer is vicariously liable for an employee’s actions:

For example, a trucking company can be held responsible if one of its drivers causes an accident. The plaintiff must prove that the driver was on duty at the time. There are cases where drivers make unauthorized detours, and under those circumstances the company might not be liable. Other situations in which employees have been found not acting within the scope of employment include:

Note that the state Supreme Court has said that social functions that “enhance employee relations” are within the scope of employment for vicarious liability purposes. Also, the fact that an employee has violated a workplace safety rule is not necessarily a defense to vicarious liability. (But, of course, that does not mean employers should forgo safety rules. There are instances where it could be a successful defense, and safety rules are both wise and necessary for other reasons.)

Exceptions to the General Rule

There are exceptions to the general rule that employers can only be held vicariously liable for employee conduct that is within the scope of employment. Specifically, the Washington Supreme Court said in a 1997 case:

“Even where an employee is acting outside the scope of employment, the relationship between employer and employee gives rise to a limited duty, owed by an employer to foreseeable victims, to prevent the tasks, premises, or instrumentalities entrusted to an employee from endangering others. This duty gives rise to causes of action for negligent hiring, retention and supervision.”

In other words, an employer who knows that an employee has dangerous propensities can be held responsible when that employee injures someone, even if the employee was not acting within the scope of employment.

Contact Us Today

Contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you were injured by a negligent employee. Our experienced attorneys will examine the facts of your case and help determine who can be held liable for your injuries, whether it is the employee, employer, or both. We will then help recover the compensation that you deserve, including medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages.