"Respondeat Superior" in California - Here's how the law works (2023)

"Respondeat Superior" in California - Here's how the law works (1)

Under California’s respondeat superior law, an employer can be held vicariously liable for its employees’ negligence. The doctrine of Respondeat superior under California law applies when:

  • An employee is acting within the ordinary scope of his employment, and
  • As the result of the employee’s wrongful actions, someone is injured.

Example: Sal, a clerk at a Los Angeles pet supply store, is showing a cat condo to Louise when he accidentally drops it on Louise’s hand and causes a nerve injury. Louise has to undergo several months of physical therapy and is unable to work for six weeks.

Even though the injury was an accident, the owner of the pet store is liable for Louise’s medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and other compensatory damages. This is because showing pet furniture to customers is within the ordinary scope of Sal’s employment.

To help you better understand California’s law on vicarious employer liability, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following, below:

  • 1. The purpose of California’s respondeat superior law
  • 2. What is the “ordinary scope of employment” in California?
  • 3. When are an employee’s actions outside the ordinary course of employment?
  • 4. Examples of acts not within the ordinary course of employment
  • 5. Who is an employee under California’s respondeat superior law?

"Respondeat Superior" in California - Here's how the law works (2)

(Video) Respondeat Superior

An employer can be liable for employees’ wrongful acts.

1. The purpose of California’s respondeat superior law

California courts have set forth three policy reasons for holding employers responsible for the acts of their employees:

  1. To prevent recurrence of the wrongful conduct;
  2. To give greater assurance of compensation for the victim; and
  3. To ensure that the victim’s losses will be borne by those who benefit from the enterprise that gave rise to the injury.1

In other words, employers are liable not because they have control over the employee or are at fault. It is because the possibility of an employee causing an injury is an inevitable risk of the employer’s business.2

Example: A customer has a slip and fall accident after a waiter spills a drink in a restaurant. Although the waiter is the tortfeasor, the restaurant has vicarious liability because spilled drinks are an inevitable risk of owning a restaurant.

Employers can even be liable for their employees’ car accidents if they occur while the worker is driving for business purposes.

2. What is the “ordinary scope of employment” in California?

An employee acts within the ordinary scope of their employment if his or her actions are typical of, or related to, what would be expected in the employer’s enterprise.3

The question is not whether the actions fall within the employee’s job description but whether an employee’s conduct is not so unusual or startling that it would be unfair to make an employer pay for harm caused by the employee’s actions.4

3. When are an employee’s actions outside the ordinary course of employment?

An employee who engages in malicious or tortious conduct or who substantially deviates from his or her duties for a personal purpose does not act within the ordinary scope of the employment.5

The determination depends on the circumstances of the case and what an employer might reasonably expect an employee to do.

(Video) Respondeat Superior: What Does It Mean?

For instance, a waiter at a restaurant who assaults a customer would normally be acting outside the scope of employment. Beating up customers is not an inherent risk of the restaurant business in the same way as a spilled drink.

But if the employee was a security guard, beating up a customer would be something foreseeable and expected. If a security guard wrongly assaulted a customer, therefore, the employer could be held liable even under circumstances in which the employer would not be liable if the employee was a waiter.

(Note, however, that if the waiter had a history of violence and the employer knew or reasonably should have known about it, the employer might be directly liable for violating California’s law on negligent hiring, retention or supervision of an employee.)

4. Examples of acts not within the ordinary course of employment

Common situations that courts have considered outside the ordinary course of employment include (but are not limited to):

  • Sexual misconduct (including sexual assault and sexual harassment);
  • Assault and battery;
  • Whistleblower retaliation; and
  • Other intentional torts unrelated to the employee’s job.

But even these situations have exceptions, particularly in the area of public employees such as law enforcement officers.

Our California personal injury attorneys specialize in cases involving excessive use of force and other inappropriate behavior by law enforcement. We invite people in the situation to call our office for a free consultation to discuss their case.

(Video) Respondeat Superior defined by Attorney Steve®

5. Who is an employee under California’s respondeat superior law?

For purposes of California’s respondeat superior law the term “employee” has a fairly broad meaning. It includes not only employees who are on payroll but also:

  • Independent contractors,
  • Seasonal employees,
  • Temporary employees,
  • Drivers,
  • Agents,
  • Representatives,
  • Partners, and
  • Third parties such as security guards, maintenance people, etc.

Injured by someone’s employee? Call us for help…

"Respondeat Superior" in California - Here's how the law works (4)

Contact our law firm for a free consultation

If you or someone you know has been injured by someone else’s employee, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. The employer’s liability for the torts of its employees may entitle you to a substantial settlement.

Call usor fill out the form on this page to schedule a time to discuss your case with one of our caring injury lawyers.

We may also be able to help if you were injured by an employee in Nevada.

Legal references:

  1. Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles (1991) 54 Cal.3d 202; Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1995) 12 Cal. 4th 291, 296 48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 510, 907 P.2d 358.); Armenta v. Churchill (1954) 42 Cal.2d 448, 267 P.2d 303; Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Purdie (1983) 145 Cal.App.3d 57, 60-62; CACI no 3701.
  2. Bailey v. Filco, Inc. (Court of Appeal, 1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 1552.
  3. Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (California Supreme Court, 1986) 41 Cal.3d 962.
  4. Farmers Ins. Group v. County of Santa Clara (1995) 11 Cal.4th 992.
  5. Mary M., note 1.

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Is respondeat superior a cause of action in California? ›

Fortunately, California uses the doctrine of respondeat superior, which means that an employer is liable for its employee's negligence. The injured person does not have to prove that the employer was independently negligent in order to recover damages from the employer.

What is the Latin phrase for let the master answer? ›

Respondeat Superior is a Latin phrase that means- Let the master answer. This is a common-law doctrine that holds an employer legally liable for the actions of an employee when the actions take place within the scope of employment and under the supervision of the employer.

What is the respondeat superior rule? ›

Respondeat superior embodies the general rule that an employer is responsible for the negligent acts or omissions of its employees. Under respondeat superior an employer is liable for the negligent act or omission of any employee acting within the course and scope of his employment (1).

Can an employee be personally liable California? ›

Employees Can Be Personally Liable for Wage Violations Under California Labor Code § 558.1. According to California's Labor Code § 558.1, a company's owners, directors, officers, and even managing agents can be held personally liable for wage and hour violations.

Can an employer sue an employee in California? ›

If an employee breaches a material term of their employment contract, you can sue them for any damages. For example, a contract might require an employee to give two weeks notice before quitting. If the employee then left without notice and you lost revenue as a result, you could pursue a claim against them.

Can a manager be held personally liable California? ›

The California courts have held that supervisors can be held liable for harassing actions towards employees. However, supervisors cannot be held liable for discriminatory or retaliatory actions. Liability for discrimination and retaliation would fall directly on the employer.

What is the most famous Latin phrase? ›

Carpe diem.

Seize the day. Probably the most popular Latin phrase of modern times.

What are the four elements of negligence that must be proven in a lawsuit? ›

The Four Elements of Negligence Are Duty, Breach of Duty, Damages, and Causation.

What is the meaning of Pax tecum? ›

peace be with you (singular)

How do you prove respondeat superior? ›

Respondeat Superior applies in cases where the plaintiff proves three things:
  1. The injury occurred while the defendant was working for the employer.
  2. The defendant was acting within the scope of her employment.
  3. The defendant was performing an act in furtherance of the employer's interest.

What is a respondeat superior claim? ›

A legal doctrine, most commonly used in tort, that holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency.

Can you sue an employee for negligence in California? ›

Typically, an employee is not held liable for ordinary carelessness or negligence in the performance of their duties. However, if an employee acts outside the scope of reasonableness, causing damage or injury to either property or persons, an employer may be able to sue an employee for negligence.

Can I record my boss yelling at me in California? ›

California is a “two-party consent” state, which means that it can be illegal to secretly record conversations in person, over the phone, or through video chat if the other participant(s) also live in a “two-party consent” state. You would need the other party's consent and permission to legally record a conversation.

Can I sue my employer for stress and anxiety in California? ›

California and federal laws protect workers from excessive stress, unsafe working conditions, harassment, and negligence. Therefore, it is possible to sue your employer in some instances. Worker compensation claims may be appropriate if the stressor is work-related, such as an overbearing boss or excessive overtime.

What are reasons I can sue my employer in California? ›

Grounds For Lawsuit Against Employers In California
  • Disability discrimination.
  • Pregnancy discrimination.
  • Retaliation against employees.
  • Marital status discrimination.
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • FMLA discrimination.
  • LGTBQ discrimination.
  • Religious beliefs discrimination.
20 Oct 2022

What is your boss not allowed to do? ›

No matter the industry or position, your boss should never ask you to engage in any unlawful activities, work in unsafe conditions, prohibit you from discussing your salary with other employees, retaliate against a whistleblower, engage in any unfair competition practices, or ask you to perform work outside of your ...

Can California employers say you were fired? ›

Under California law, employers have a right to provide truthful information about the reason for the termination of their former employees' employment.

How much can I sue my employer for not paying me in California? ›

An employer will face a $100 penalty for each failure to pay each employee on time. The penalty applies to “any initial violation,” according to California's law. For any subsequent violation, the employer is subject to a $200 penalty, plus 25 percent of the amount unlawfully withheld.

Can I record my boss in California? ›

In California, it is a misdemeanor to record a conversation without the consent of all parties to the conversation, which can lead to fines of up to $2,500 and/or imprisonment for up to a year.

Can a manager sack you for no reason? ›

Your employer's responsibilities

If your employer has dismissed you, they must show they have: a valid reason that they can justify (for example, if you have not been able to do your job) acted reasonably in the circumstances (for example, if there was no training or support to help)

Is it illegal in California for your employer to tell you that you can't disclose your salary with your coworkers? ›

An employer may not prohibit an employee from disclosing his or her own wages, discussing the wages of others, inquiring about another employee's wages, or aiding or encouraging any other employee to exercise rights under the Equal Pay Act.

What are some badass Latin phrases? ›

  • Vincit qui se vincit. He conquers who conquers himself. ...
  • Carthago delenda est. Carthage must be destroyed. ...
  • Non ducor, duco. I am not led, I lead. ...
  • Gladiator in arena consilium capit. ...
  • Aqua vitae. ...
  • Sic semper tyrannis. ...
  • Astra inclinant, sed non obligant. ...
  • Aut cum scuto aut in scuto.
29 Apr 2020

Who actually spoke Latin? ›

Originally spoken by small groups of people living along the lower Tiber River, Latin spread with the increase of Roman political power, first throughout Italy and then throughout most of western and southern Europe and the central and western Mediterranean coastal regions of Africa.

What 3 things must a plaintiff prove in a negligence case? ›

4 Elements Of A Negligence Claim
  • 1) Presence of a Duty. This is a key parameter for determining the respondent's fault in a personal injury claim. ...
  • 2) Breach of a Duty. ...
  • 3) Proof of Direct Causation. ...
  • 4) Nature and Extent of Injuries.

What is the most difficult element of negligence to prove? ›

Many articles discuss what negligence is and how to prove it, but the least understood element among these four is causation. Additionally, out of these four elements, causation is typically the most difficult to prove, especially in medical malpractice cases.

What 3 things must you prove to have a case for negligence? ›

In order to establish negligence, you must be able to prove four “elements”: a duty, a breach of that duty, causation and damages.

How do you respond to Pax Tecum? ›

The person holding the pax said "Pax tecum" and received the response "Et cum spiritu tuo" ("Peace to you", "And with your spirit").

What is the meaning of Vivere? ›

(transitive, intransitive) to live; to be alive.

What does the Latin term et alia et al mean? ›

Et al. is an abbreviation for et alia (neuter plural). But it can also be an abbreviation for et alii (masculine plural), or et aliae (feminine plural). This phrase means “and others.” Most commonly, et al. indicates other contributors (authors, editors, etc.)

Which is an example of respondeat superior liability? ›

Respondeat superior applies to both negligent and intentional torts: if an employer orders the employee to assault a customer, the employer is unquestionably liable for the assault.

What type of liability is respondeat superior? ›

One type of vicarious liability is respondeat superior, which means “let the master answer.” When respondeat superior applies, an employer will be liable for an employee's negligent actions or omissions that occur during the course and scope of the employee's employment.

Who will not be liable when it comes to the doctrine of respondeat superior? ›

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer will be vicariously liable for her employee's torts ONLY IF the torts were committed within the scope of the employment relationship. The general rule is that a defendant is not vicariously liable for the torts of an independent contractor that she hires.

What is it called when the employer is responsible for the employee? ›

Under a legal doctrine sometimes referred to as "respondeat superior" (Latin for "Let the superior answer"), an employer is legally responsible for the actions of its employees. However, this rule applies only if the employee is acting within the course and scope of employment.

Is respondeat superior a tort? ›

Under the doctrine “respondeat superior” (Latin for “let the master answer”), an employer is liable for a tort committed by an employee acting “within the scope of employment.” The doctrine is also known as “vicarious liability” because the employer is vicariously liable for the employee's tort.

Is respondeat superior an affirmative defense? ›

Self-defense, entrapment, insanity, necessity, and respondeat superior are some examples of affirmative defenses. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 56, any party may make a motion for summary judgment on an affirmative defense.

How long do you have to sue an employer in California? ›

You have at least three (3) years to file claims for your employer's failure to pay you the wages or overtime you were legally entitled to, three (3) years to sue for fraud, and four (4) years to sue for breach of a written employment contract.

What are the five elements to prove a claim for negligence? ›

Doing so means you and your lawyer must prove the five elements of negligence: duty, breach of duty, cause, in fact, proximate cause, and harm. Your lawyer may help you meet the elements necessary to prove your claim, build a successful case, and help you receive the monetary award you deserve.

How long do you have to file a lawsuit against your employer in California? ›

Workers may file a claim with the Labor Commissioner's office or pursue a lawsuit. Generally, an employee must file within two years of the violation occurring, but workers may have three years in circumstances where a violation is willful.

Can I tell my boss to stop yelling at me? ›

Steps to Take

Short of that level of awfulness, the usual first step is to ask your boss to stop. Show how often he's yelling; explain you're not comfortable with it, and ask him to lay off. This probably won't be fun, but showing you've made a good faith effort will help if you take legal action.

Can I sue someone for recording me without my permission in California? ›

Basic Law:

California has some of the strongest laws in the country on wiretapping. Put simply, absent consent of all parties, they are not only not admissible into evidence, but a crime to obtain and allow the “injured party” to sue. Admittedly, damages are hard to prove in these cases.

Can bosses yell at you? ›

The short answer is yes. Legally speaking, supervisors and managers are allowed to yell at employees. However, when that yelling is about or against a protected class, the yelling may qualify as harassment.

Can I get unemployment if I quit my job because of stress in California? ›

If you voluntarily left your job, you can still collect unemployment benefits if you had a solid reason for quitting. If you had a good cause relating to your job such as discrimination, harassment, unsafe working conditions, retaliation, etc.

How much can you sue for emotional distress in California? ›

You can recover up to $250,000 in pain and suffering, or any non-economic damages.

How do you prove emotional distress in California? ›

To prove a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in California a plaintiff must prove that: The defendant's conduct was outrageous, The conduct was either reckless or intended to cause emotional distress; and. As a result of the defendant's conduct the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.

Can I sue my California employer for stress anxiety and emotional distress? ›

California and federal laws protect workers from excessive stress, unsafe working conditions, harassment, and negligence. Therefore, it is possible to sue your employer in some instances. Worker compensation claims may be appropriate if the stressor is work-related, such as an overbearing boss or excessive overtime.

Can I sue for emotional distress? ›

The courts recognize emotional distress as a type of damage that can be recovered through a civil lawsuit. This means you can sue someone for emotional trauma or distress if you can provide evidence to support your claims.

Is vicarious liability a cause of action in California? ›

Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine under which parties can be held indirectly liable for an injury, even though they did not cause it. In California, someone who is vicariously liable may be legally responsible for a plaintiff's medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and other losses.

Is res ipsa loquitur a cause of action in California? ›

Unlike res ips, however, the theory shows that a party acted negligently because he/she violated a statute or law. California personal injury law incorporates the res ipsa loquitur doctrine. Evidence Code 646 is the California statute that outlines and authorizes the use of the doctrine.

Is false promise a cause of action California? ›

A cause of action for fraud arises when a party misrepresents material facts, makes false promises, or otherwise deceives another party with the intention of depriving them of their money, property, and/or rights.

Can you sue for emotional distress in California? ›

In California, victims who suffer emotional distress because of another person's conduct can file a lawsuit for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. There is no requirement that a victim suffers a physical injury.

How do you prove emotional distress damages in California? ›

To prove a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in California, you must prove that:
  1. The defendant's conduct was outrageous,
  2. The conduct was either reckless or intended to cause emotional distress; and.
  3. As a result of the defendant's conduct you suffered severe emotional distress.

What is tortious interference in California? ›

Tortious interference, also known in California as economic interference, is a category of tort claims that allows recovery of damages for intentional or negligent acts that cause economic damage.

Does California recognize gross negligence? ›

In California law, the term “gross negligence” refers is a particularly dangerous level of conduct that subjects the defendant to a higher degree of liability. Gross negligence is more serious than ordinary negligence, but not as serious as recklessness or intentional acts.

Is California a pure negligence state? ›

California law follows a pure comparative negligence standard. This means that the plaintiff can recover any portion of damages caused by the defendants. If the plaintiff is primarily responsible, the plaintiff can still get some amount of award, reduced by the plaintiff's own fault.

What constitutes negligence in California? ›

What is the legal definition of “negligence” in California? California law defines ordinary negligence as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others.

What are the elements of the legal principle of respondeat superior? ›

Corporate liability under respondeat superior generally requires three elements: (1) the agent of the corporation committed the crime, (2) while acting within the scope of the agent's authority, (3) with an intent to benefit the corporation.

What is the effect of respondeat superior? ›

Respondeat superior means that the employee's negligence will be deemed the employer's: the delivery company cannot take the (inconsistent) position that the employee is working for it (and her actions are theirs) when she makes deliveries properly but not when she runs stop lights.

Can you sue someone for filing a frivolous lawsuit California? ›

Malicious prosecution is a civil cause of action in California that you bring when a person files a frivolous claim against you – a lawsuit was filed not based on merits of the claim, but rather for some ulterior purpose – and you suffered damages as a result.

How do I prove malice in California? ›

To show actual malice, plaintiffs must demonstrate [that the defendant] either knew his statement was false or subjectively entertained serious doubt his statement was truthful. The question is not whether a reasonably prudent man would have published, or would have investigated before publishing.

How do you prove a breach of contract in California? ›

There are four standard elements required to establish a claim for breach of contract in California: (i) the existence of a valid contract, (ii) the plaintiff's performance or excuse for nonperformance, (iii) the defendant's breach of contract, and (iv) resulting damages.


1. Respondeat Superior
(Stoy Law Group, PLLC)
2. What is Respondeat Superior?
(Attorney Thoughts)
3. Vicarious Liability for Torts of an Agent
(The Business Professor)
4. Legal Nuts And Bolts: Respondeat Superior
(The Proper Person)
5. Respondeat Superior and Vicarious Liability
(The Part Time Economist)
6. The law of "respondeat Superior" in personal injury cases
(Shouse Law Group Channel)
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