Negligence Liability: Who is Responsible?
In some legal disputes that arise after an accident or injury, the concept of negligence is not limited to the action (or inaction) of an individual. Negligence liability may extend to people or entities that were not directly involved in the incident at issue -- a concept called vicarious liability. Vicarious negligence liability is often claimed to make certain that an injured person can recover his or her damages from a financially secure and adequately insured party.
Vicarious Liability: Employers and Corporations
Small businesses, partnerships, organizations, and large corporations may all be held legally responsible in situations where they failed to properly ensure the safety of others. This is especially true in personal injury cases that stem from "slip and fall" incidents involving commercial businesses and corporate property owners. In addition, vicarious liability may also make an employer liable for job-related accidents involving his or her employees -- even if the employer was not present at the time of the accident.
To illustrate the concept of vicarious liability, consider a hypothetical car accident scenario. Suppose that Don, an employee of Acme Office Supply, was involved in a car accident with Pat around 10:30 a.m. while making a delivery in a company van. Under vicarious liability theory, not only may Don be found at fault for causing the accident with Pat, but Don's employer, Acme Office Supply, could also be held legally responsible for Don's negligence in causing the car accident. This is because Acme is accountable for any carelessness on Don's part that might occur in the normal course of his employment duties. This includes the manner in which he drives while making deliveries for the company. Here, Acme Office Supply is more likely to be financially secure and adequately insured than Don -- thus making it a "better" defendant, financially speaking, than Don for this type of lawsuit.
Strict Liability Cases
While the concept of negligence liability applies to most types of personal injury cases, certain kinds of injury claims will use a different rule of fault called "strict liability." Strict liability cases usually involve defective products, or certain inherently dangerous activities (like shipping toxic chemicals or keeping a dangerous animal on your property).
Typically in situations involving an accident or injury, you must prove that someone acted negligently or carelessly -- which somehow caused or contributed to your injury. However, under the theory of strict liability, a consumer may recover from injuries caused by a defective product without proving negligence. All that must be proven is that the product or activity was unreasonably dangerous, and that plaintiff's injuries were the result. By holding manufacturers responsible for these types of injuries, manufacturers have a major incentive to ensure that their products are safe for the general public.
For more general information, feel free to check out FindLaw's section on negligence. You may also want to consider retaining a personal injury attorney to inform you of your legal options and further explain the process of filing and litigating a lawsuit.