The Concept Of Vicarious Liability

It is common knowledge that if a person commits a crime, he is the one who pays for it. That implies that the person responsible for specific wrong conduct will face damages, imprisonment, or punishment of any sort for the same. But is it possible that you can be held liable for the wrongdoings or mistakes of some other person?

It might seem a stupid question, but the matter of fact is that you can. This principle of Vicarious Liability is described under the Law of Torts.

In certain cases, one may be held for the act of the other if there exists a certain kind of relationship between the two persons concerned. But the act under inspection must have been done in connection with that ‘relationship’.

Common examples of such a relationship are 

  1. Liability of the principal for the tort of his agent
  2. Liability of partners of each other’s tort
  3. Liability of the master for the tort of his servant.

When an agent, in the course of performance of his duty as an agent, commits a wrongful act, the principal is the person held liable. The principal is made liable ‘vicariously’ because of the principal-agent relationship between the two. The same is the case in a master-servant relationship.

The doctrine followed in the above two conditions is based on the maxim of respondeat superior, which means ‘let the principal be liable’ and it puts the master in the same position as if he had done the act himself.

Does a natural question arise that who is a servant? Is the person in question a servant and should the master (so-called) be held liable?

A servant is a person employed by another to do work under the directions and controls of his master. As a general rule, the master is liable for the tort of his servant but not for the tort of an independent contractor.

Servant and independent contractor distinguished –  A servant is an agent who is subject to the control and supervision of his employer regarding how the work is to be done. Whereas the independent contractor is not subject to such control.

An employer is not liable for acts of an independent contractor.


The general rule that an employer is not liable for the acts of an independent contractor is subject to some exceptions. In the following cases, an employer can be made liable for the wrongs of the independent contractor.

  1. If an employer authorizes the doing of an illegal act or subsequently ratifies the same, he can be made liable for such an act. The real reason for such liability is that the employer himself is a party to the wrongful act, along with the independent contractor, and therefore, he is liable.
  2. An employer is liable for the act of an independent contractor in cases of strict liability. Also, if some hazardous work is engaged in, even then the employer is held liable.

Therefore, it is evident that one can be held liable for the actions of another. Such is the beauty of our law!

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