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?
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:
- To prevent recurrence of the wrongful conduct;
- To give greater assurance of compensation for the victim; and
- 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.
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.)
Courts have considered certain situations, such as sexual assault, outside the ordinary course of employment.
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.
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,
- Partners, and
- Third parties such as security guards, maintenance people, etc.
Injured by someone’s employee? Call us for help…
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.
- 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.
- Bailey v. Filco, Inc. (Court of Appeal, 1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 1552.
- Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (California Supreme Court, 1986) 41 Cal.3d 962.
- Farmers Ins. Group v. County of Santa Clara (1995) 11 Cal.4th 992.
- 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? ›
Seize the day. Probably the most popular Latin phrase of modern times.
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? ›
- The injury occurred while the defendant was working for the employer.
- The defendant was acting within the scope of her employment.
- 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? ›
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- Disability discrimination.
- Pregnancy discrimination.
- Retaliation against employees.
- Marital status discrimination.
- Sexual harassment in the workplace.
- FMLA discrimination.
- LGTBQ discrimination.
- Religious beliefs discrimination.
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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)
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- 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.
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- 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.
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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? ›
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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.
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? ›
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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? ›
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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? ›
- 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 you suffered severe emotional distress.
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