Why Does Vicarious Liability Matter?
Many tortfeasors (negligent drivers) have insufficient insurance coverage to fully compensate the victim/plaintiff. Nationally, about 12 percent of drivers are completely uninsured, and North Carolina has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country.
Fortunately, North Carolina recognizes some key third party liability theories, so victim/plaintiffs have legal options, even if the tortfeasor is uninsured or underinsured.
Much like ship captains are ultimately responsible for most of the events that take place on a ship, employers are responsible for the negligent acts of their employees, because of the respondeat superior rule. There are three basic prongs:
- Employee: Delivery drivers, taxi drivers, Uber drivers, and most all other commercial operators, even those who do not receive any pay, are “employees” in negligence cases, because most courts use the very broad Department of Labor employment definition, which is “suffer or permit to work.”
- Scope of Employment: Similarly, even an act like driving an empty vehicle that bears the company logo falls within the scope of employment, because the employer benefits from the advertising. Any benefit is sufficient, almost regardless of its size or extent.
- Foreseeability: Almost all car crashes are foreseeable, unless the tortfeasor does something like break into the motor pool.
North Carolina is a pure joint and several liability state, so in most cases, every responsible party is liable for the full measure of damages. In car crashes, that would include both the tortfeasor and responsible third party.
Negligent hiring is another common employer liability theory. Essentially, if the employer hires an incompetent employee, the employer is responsible for the damages the employee negligent causes. For example, an employer might hire someone with a poor driving record and give that person access to a vehicle.
Alcohol Provider Liability
North Carolina has a limited dram shop law which applies to restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and other commercial alcohol providers. Such providers are liable for damages if they negligently serve persons under 21 who later negligently cause damages.
The under-21 component is rather easy to establish, because the tortfeasor was either over or under 21. To establish negligence, the victim/plaintiff must convince the jury that the provider’s conduct fell below the standard of care; for example, a bar might serve a person who is under 21 because s/he “looks older.”
Regardless of the tortfeasor’s age, social host liability may apply in non-commercial sales. Party hosts and other social hosts are liable for the damages that their intoxicated patrons cause if that person:
- Provided alcohol,
- Knew or should have known that the tortfeasor was intoxicated, and
- Knew or should have known that the tortfeasor would drive.
Some situations, like a homeowner who leaves a liquor cabinet unlocked and does not properly supervise minors, are in a grey area.
Count On Aggressive Attorneys
The tortfeasor may not be the only responsible party in a car crash. For a confidential consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in High Point, contact McAllister, Aldridge & Kreinbrink PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases, (336) 882-4300.